ACCESS TO ELECTORAL JUSTICE
Access to electoral justice
The concluded 2021 general elections have drawn 104 parliamentary election petitions and 49 local council election petitions. The number of petitions this time is less compared to the 2016 general elections that attracted 135 and 85 parliamentary and local council electoral petitions respectively. The judiciary while addressing the press warned of the looming constitutional crisis that may arise over delayed hearing and disposal of election petitions at the High Court due to the imposed lockdown that has paralyzed court business.
Despite government partially opening up the country following a 42 days’ lockdown, that ended last week, the Judiciary has to fast track and prioritize as practice demands hearing and disposing off election petition cases within the election year. This presupposes that the judiciary has less than 4 months to conclude 153 cases. This is unlikely given that even in the previous elections, petitions haven’t been concluded in a record time often spread across the 5-year term.
Going by the trends and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many aggrieved electoral participants especially the candidates and electorate, risk failing to access electoral justice if the Judiciary doesn’t consider adjusting to embrace e-justice as the new normal. This demands for investing in online platforms and technology to conduct court proceedings virtually.
SecretsKnown challenges the judiciary to embrace and adopt the use of virtual platforms to adjudicate court cases. It’s becoming evident that the COVID-19 situation is not about to end soon as countries battle different waves of the pandemic. The Judiciary like other institutions must continue to work and execute its mandate within the pandemic context. This demands for the institution to adopt new norms, practices, and standard operating procedures.
The judiciary has since come out committing in preparations to equip all the upcountry High Court circuits with technology. “We are aware that we are running out of time, but we are looking at ways of how to avert it. There is no need to worry. If the physical hearings cannot take place, we have been developing technology in all our High Court circuits as a remedy to that,” Mr. Karemani the spokesperson said while addressing the press.
SecretsKnown advocates for the judiciary to extend powers of adjudicating election petitions to the lower courts at the district level to quickly expand the petitions. As of now, only the High courts at the regional level are mandated to hear election petitions. SecretsKnown encourages and advises the courts/judiciary to put in place electoral tribunals to handle matters of elections that will also address overwhelming court cases and backlog.
Like the way, William E. Gladstone in 1842 asserts that “justice delayed is justice denied”, The perpetual delay of electoral justice to candidates and electorate is denial of their rights. It is unfair to conduct an election in the covid-19 pandemic and fail to adjudicate election petitions in an election aftermath due to lockdown.