Activists want govt to reinstate fare system for court witnesses

16Jun 2021
Rahma Suleiman
Zanzibar
The Guardian
Activists want govt to reinstate fare system for court witnesses

​​​​​​​EARLY last year Tanzania  was hit by COVID-19 epidemic, which has affected various economic sectors in Zanzibar, Tanzania and the world at large.

When the disease broke out, the government was forced to close down various social and economic activities to save people’s lives from the silent killer disease.

Despite the government allowing some of the activities to take place after the decline of the disease, but still so far there are various side effects caused by the disease.

Among those implications is the lack of fare for witnesses who are required to testify in different courts, especially in GBV cases.

The fare for the case and the criminal case is in accordance with the law of the court where witnesses, who are required to testify in court are required to be given the money.

Magistrate of the Unguja South Region court, Kahmis Ali Simai said according to the rules witnesses who appear in court to testify are required to be paid a fare, but the money has not been paid since the outbreak of the Coronavirus epidemic early last year.

“It is true that according to the rule of law, a witness who is required to appear in court to give evidence in criminal cases should be given a fare to enable him/her to appear in court, but since COVID-19 erupted, the witnesses are not given fare," he said.

He said the reason for the not paying them was due to the little amount of money the court was given.

“This was caused by the economic crisis due to COVID-19,” he said.

Before COVID-19, witnesses were given money for transport from where they lived to the court, which increased the motivation of the witnesses to go to court to give evidence.

He urged witnesses especially in GBV cases not to be discouraged to come to the court to give evidence despite the fact that there is currently no fare for them because the case without evidence, the accused cannot be convicted.

Sabra Ali, gender officer in Unguja West A District said many cases of abuse are dismissed due to various reasons including the suspect's failure to convict due to lack of evidence.

She said the cases could not be found guilty because the witnesses failed to appear in court due to various reasons including lack of fare to and from the court.

Gender official also cited a culture of secrecy as one of the causes of GBV cases fail to convict the suspects.

According to her, many GBV victims are helpless and do not have the ability to pay fare for witnesses to go to court and the witnesses are forced to pay their own fares and other services to get to court.

Sabra said sometimes witnesses are called more than once to testify in court so when they do not have a fare they fail to arrive, calling on the government to set up a special fund to help the community so that they could go to court to give evidence when needed.

A mother whose child was sodomized (name withheld) said her case is still pending in court and has already submitted witnesses for evidence and the next step is now to be tried.

The woman was required to appear in court to present three witnesses, at which point she had to pay for their transport to the court.

"If I had no fare for my witnesses they would not have been able to come to court to give evidence because they told me they wanted to go and give evidence but they do not have the fare and I had to take money out of my pocket to give them," she said.

She asked the government to make an effort to enable witnesses to get to the court and testify.

Human rights activist from Unguja North Region Hadia Ali Makame said that witnesses in GBV cases need to be given fare to testify against the victims.

She urged the government to reinstate the fare system so that those cases proceed smoothly and the justice is obtained and perpetuators are convicted.

She said when a witness is summoned to the court and he/she is forced to suspend some of his/her economic activities for the day, so it is advisable for the government to restore the fare system.

She explained that the witnesses are currently paying their own way to get to the court and some of them live far from the court so they are forced to pay the fare to get to the court and that level due to the distance the witness lives where there are those who pay to pay 3,000 / - for fares.

"For a rural resident most of whom are helpless 3,000/- to give it is too big to enable him/her to come to the court to give evidence," she said.

Time Asaa Khamis, from Zanzibar Female Lawyers Association (ZAFELA) said it is a good thing for witnesses in the GBV cases to be given money for transport for them to give evidences.

She said that a case without evidence the accused could not be convicted, advising that the witnesses should not be given only their own fare or subsistence allowance for the whole day that he/she is required to appear in court.

She said: "When you call a witness in court you are disturbing his/her economic activities. So, I think it is important to give them subsistence allowances."