Last week Tanzanians marked National Law Day. In a way, the day has always accorded people an opportunity to look back and see how far the nation has advanced in ensuring the legal system works as expected in dispensing justice.
In order to gauge how far the nation has progressed on this front, one must of necessity understand that it is closely tied to the progress on the other fronts that translate the best of intentions into results.
It is the changes being made to the legal system and how effectively they are implemented that mark progress in consolidating justice for the people.
Inaugurating this year’s National Law Day in Dar es Salaam, President Jakaya Kikwete reminded the judicial cadre that efficient delivery of justice depended on their integrity, issuance of judgment copies on time and speeding up the hearing of cases, noting however that investigators, advocates, state attorneys, adjournment of cases also contributed to the delays.
The President’s call needs immediate action considering a recent report which disclosed that a good number of prison inmates even those with petty charges are forced to stay there due to poor flow of cases caused by inadequacy of legal personnel.
Yet also aware of the challenges ahead, especially on the issue of resources to consolidate the legal system at the grassroots, the president promised to increase the budget of the judiciary in order to increase efficiency and good governance.
Tanganyika Law Society President Francis Stolla meanwhile noted that for any justice system to be accepted and thrive, the faith of the people in it was crucial.
“If this faith is eroded, it leads to breakdown of the system,” he said, asking: “Are acts of people taking the law into their own hands a manifestation of loss of faith in the rule of law?”
“Who are involved in these acts? Are the institutions entrusted with the responsibility of delivering justice including the police force, courts, and we lawyers executing our work satisfactorily?” he asked further.
All these are no doubt relevant questions as we assess the progress made in dispensing justice in our country.
Stolla said equality of all people before the law is an important pillar for the rule of law. Indeed, many of the cries for justice at the grassroots stem from inadequacy of the legal system at that level and any measures seeking to address the shortfalls are more than welcome.
We commend all institutions working to effect the needed changes in various laws to promote justice. One such encouraging move was last week’s announcement by Constitutional Affairs and Justice deputy minister Angela Kairuki that the government was working on changes to the Marriage Act of 1971 as one of the crucial steps in fighting domestic violence, specifically gender-based violence (GBV).
Another equally praiseworthy step was the announcement by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda of plans to extend legal aid to the poor people who cannot afford the services of advocates when facing lawsuits. He said the government and law societies were working on modalities of ensuring competent legal counsel represented such people. That is as it should be, for access to justice is a basic human right.