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Justice Ministry Wants Divorces Shifted to Magistrate Courts

By: Eba Kandovazu

The justice ministry says it would like to decentralise divorce proceedings to the magistrate courts, as there are only two High Court Divisions in the country where divorce can be heard.

This was confirmed by the justice ministry’s chief public relations officer Simon Idipo following consultation meetings with stakeholders in the legal fraternity on the Divorce amendment bill, which endorses the application of divorces to happen at Magistrate courts countrywide at a cheaper rate.

“The problem is that when people divorce, they are only allowed to do so in the High Court, and we only have two high court divisions in Namibia, namely the main division in Windhoek and Oshakati. This is problematic because the high court already deals with many other cases daily, consisting of criminal and civil streams,” he told The Villager.

He further said this leads to divorce matter postponements and can drag on for years.

“This is an issue again because the more postponements are done, the more money people will keep paying lawyers. Why is it that people get married at the magistrate courts, but when they divorce, they go to the High Court? Almost every region has a magistrate court.”

He said that he has received over 100 inputs on the proposed bill.

He stressed that it would be cheaper in the Magistrate court, adding that the fee currently stands at N$75 to get married at the Magsitrate courts, while it costs over N$ 3000 to file for divorce in the high court.

“You end up spending about N$ 30000 or more just for divorce, which already is a strenuous process, mentally. If we bring it to the Magistrate court, it would be cheaper. The population is also growing, and obviously, people need services. Increasing the number of High Courts is also an option, but in its absence, we can utilise the existing lower courts. The best way is to legalise or introduce laws allowing magistrates to adjudicate divorces,” he said.

He also said the bill seeks to address the grounds of divorce, which he says are currently limited to a lack of affection between parties, a spouse moving out of a matrimonial home and adultery, among others.

According to him, the reality is that Namibians intend to divorce due to numerous issues, which are not accommodated currently. He also singled out gender-based violence, which he says is not grounds for divorce.

He says the bill also seeks to address the privacy of divorce hearings in courts. He says currently, the hearings are heard in open, public courts without confidentiality.

“There, people air their dirty laundry, and anyone can just sit and listen. What do public members have to do with the marriage and divorce of two people? It makes absolutely no sense for people other than the two parties involved to sit in the court when the hearing is taking place. We want the law to make provision for privacy,” Idipo remarked.

The bill states that the court may make an order that no person other than the party or parties and the legal practitioners acting on behalf of the party or parties, the required court officials and persons whose presence is necessary, be present at the proceedings referred to in paragraph.

It further states that it may make this ruling if the court is satisfied that there is a likelihood that harm may result to a child of the marriage or any other child connected to the proceedings.

The bill also restricts the publication of divorce proceedings in newspapers.

Eba Kandovazu

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