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Judicial trouble: Q & A with a Justice

Author: Daniel Danis | Published: Monday, June 20, 2016

Justice Khalid Mohamed Abdalla

This week (starting Monday June 20, 2016) Justices, Judges and support staff working for the Judiciary of South Sudan are expected to go on an open strike. This means any court proceedings or hearing that was ongoing or about to begin has been suspended indefinitely.

The Justices and Judges have made 29 demands that they believe can only be addressed by the Chief Justice, Chan Reec Madut. Among these issues are unpaid allowances and salaries, and a complete transformation of the judicial system in the Republic of South Sudan.

Daniel Danis had an exclusive interview with the Chairperson of the Justices and Judges Committee that is spearheading the strike. Justice Khalid Mohamed Abdalla, President of the Court of Appeal in Greater Upper Nile –Circuit explains why they think the strike is necessary.

Q: You are on an open strike as justices and judges from around the country, how many people are we talking about?

Khalid Mohamed: We are talking about 213 judges around Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Equatoria, Renk County and Bor County. This is the number and locations of judges who are on strike.

Q: Does this strike also include judges from the local courts?

Khalid Mohamed: No. This is for actual status courts which start from county courts. Traditional courts are not involved in this strike.

Q: You cited 29 demands; four of them were met through the intervention of the office of the Chief Justice and also through the intervention of the President in 2014. Why are you asking for these allowances now, considering the fact that the country is facing serious economic crisis?

Khalid Mohamed: We are of course very aware that our country is going through a very difficult economic situation. That is a fact. However, we feel that these demands can be fulfilled, because if the administration of the Judiciary of South Sudan tries to utilize our own resources, it is possible. We have revenue that is generated within the judiciary such as court fees and other charges. And according to the financial regulations [of the Judiciary] we are supposed to remain with 40% of the revenue generated from our courts. The rest [60%] is remitted to the Ministry of Finance. So we feel that this 40% is a very huge amount of money – if the Judiciary administration is serious, we [Judges] shouldn’t be exposed to this kind of suffering.

Q: Justice Khalid, why is your convenience so important to the rest of the civil servants?

Khalid Mohamed: As Judges and Justices, we are under obligation to render justice, and this justice needs to be rendered when a judge is free from the yoke of receiving bribes and/or any kind of payment that will influence proper dispensation of justice. So if a judge gets his/her regular payments, he/she can be free to render justice without fear and without intervention from anybody. He she will act independently.

Q: Since these issues have been of concern to you judges even before 2011, do you think the judges have been acting independently?

Khalid Mohamed: But this is why one of our demands is the need for an independent Judiciary. We need the Judiciary to be independent of any interference, and independent of any organ or anybody. This should also include physical independence where there will be absolutely no outside influence. This is why we are calling for reform of the Judiciary, so that it can exercise its duty as required by the constitution.

Q: You are also demanding for the independence of the Judiciary – financially and administratively; what does independence financially mean?

Khalid Mohamed: The authorities should provide us with enough finance that enables us to do our duties without interference. This is what we mean.

Q: Justice Khalid, the committee of Justice and Judges is also calling for reinstatement of 6 months’ salaries and healthcare allowance; is it backdated to any particular year?

Khalid Mohamed: This is from 2012. We haven’t received these arrears up to this moment.

Q:  Was this a promise by the President or a constitutional requirement to all judges?

Khalid Mohamed: This is actually provided for in the Judiciary Services Act. It spells this out very clearly.

Q: There were some increments made among the 29 issues that you as judges raised since 2011; among the issues settled are: monthly increment of Service Money for the Court of Appeal from SSP 15,000 to SSP 20,000, and for the High Court from SSP, 10,000 to SSP, 15,000, and the Assistant Judges were promoted to 2nd Grade Judges. Why do you want more increment on these items?

Khalid Mohamed: Right now, it is not possible to administer courts with this little money. The Service Money means that it is the amount allocated as the running costs of the courts. This is not enough in the current situation, because now we are lacking even plain papers. Just imagine. A person files a case, pays his/her court fees, but then there is no paper for us as judges to write our decisions on. As a judge, we have to write something; our decisions are not verbal. When someone comes before us, we tell them we don’t have papers, and we send them to go buy a paper, yet they already paid court fees. It is not the duty of the citizen to do that. This is supposed to be the duty of the administration of the Judiciary. This small things like papers can easily be tackled by our administration using our resources.

Q: Justice Khalid, sitting in your office here, I see you have a printer and no computer, yet you are in Juba. Is this the case for all other judges across the country?

Khalid Mohamed: Yes, it is the same. If you see for example behind you, you will find some stuffs. This is my office as the President of the Court of Appeal for Greater Upper Nile, and it is a store. It is also the office of my court clerk. And of course there is no computer. Juba is a huge city; we have fifty-something judges here in Juba. Right now, four or five judges are working in one court house – which is awful. Four judges use the same office table and chair – each taking their turns to listen to a case. This is leading to the delay of justice, and delay of justice is justice denied. We also have a problem with the transportation of judges to workplaces and back home. Currently, some of our colleagues are coming to work using public transport, and this is very risky for them, because we are dealing with cases involving plaintiffs.

Q: What is the problem with using public transport?

Khalid Mohamed: This is dangerous because you can be killed anytime [by those who are not happy with the verdicts] on the road or on the boda-boda. You can be targeted. The other security issue that we raised is the provision of court police. Right now, we are exposed to any criminal who can just come and shoot you in the courtroom. And also the homes for some of my colleagues, including me are exposed. We can be targeted anytime. I have personally been shot at here in Juba in my house. Luckily enough, neither me nor any of my family members was injured. But it is possible. We also don’t have any medical care system. We lost some of our colleagues to illnesses because the little money that was supposed to be paid to them was not provided, yet it is there in the Judiciary Service Act.

Q: You mean you are currently leaving in your own homes and not accommodation provided by the administration or the government?

Khalid Mohamed: Yes. That is why we propose that the administration should provide us with adequate accommodation and take away [housing] allowance which is not enough.

Q: How much is the allowance?

Khalid Mohamed: Well, it differs between judges, but the maximum is SSP 4,000. This money is not enough these days to rent a house. Some of us live far from town and the allowance is little to cater for adequate and safe house.

Q: What happens when the budget for the judiciary is being developed? Is it not done in consultations with the needs of the whole judiciary, including the judges?

Khalid Mohamed: It is not. And that is why we demand that the Justices and Judges be represented in the committee that drafts the budget, so that they at least develop a realistic budget.

Q: Justice Khalid, can you elaborate further on what you mean by this demand; “Equal treatment for all Justices, Judges in duties and rights, such as tickets for leave abroad.” You mean there are some judges being treated better than others?

Khalid Mohamed: We are all suffering from these challenges. There is no judge preferred over others. We are all equal and we are all suffering.

Q: Let us talk about the issue of the backlog of cases in South Sudan. As you said justice delayed is justice denied, do you believe that these challenges that you are raising are the ones contributing to delayed justice across the country?

Khalid Mohamed: Let me give you an example. We have many courts in Juba, but we have only one vehicle which brings the accused persons from police detention centers to the courts. But for the last 3 months, this lorry is not operating because there are no tires – just two tires. The current tires are exhausted. So we have stayed for 3 months without anyone being brought from the prison to the courts. This is a grave violation of human rights, and we [judges] feel that we are not doing our duty. The maintenance of this car was even being done by one of the NGOs, but can you honestly tell me that the Judiciary of South Sudan doesn’t have enough money to buy only two tires?

Q: Another demand that I am curious about is the issue of identity cards. Are you saying you do not carry any ID card with you?

Khalid Mohamed: Right now it is not possible to identify ourselves. We just say I am ‘Molana’ [judge], but there is no proof. This is a very simple thing which is stipulated in the Judiciary Service Act – that each Justice or Judge should have an ID card – to prove that he/she is a judge. Now, according to the constitution, a judge has immunity, but what is happening everyday is that a police officer arrests you and you cannot prove that you are a judge, because there is no ID card.

Q: ‘Molana’, tell me the significance of one of your demands that you need an annual Justices and Judges Conference.

Khalid Mohamed: Well, since our independence, we have never had this kind of conference. The importance of this conference is to share ideas between judges, because we are supposed to share our experience with our colleagues – including young judges. We need to transfer experience. Unfortunately since then, the leadership of the Judiciary hasn’t felt the importance of this kind of conference, although all over the world judges meet at least once a year to exchange ideas.

Q: Have you raised these concerns with the Chief Justice and with the President?

Khalid Mohamed: This [memo] is now for public consumption, because we have tabled many memos to the Chief Justice and generally to the leadership of the Judiciary. The Presidency is aware of this document. We met the President and we discussed the same issues, but up to now, nothing has been done. So we opted to go public so that they [public] know that we are working under very difficult environment. But let me stress: nothing in all these issues involves politics. We are not politicians, we are judges. We want the public to know that we are not doing our duties as expected because of these problems. The judiciary of South Sudan needs reforms.

Q: If half of these demands are met, will you accept…or you want total resolution of all the issues you have raised as a committee of Justices and Judges?

Khalid Mohamed: We as a committee believe that the demands are important and necessary, and we cannot implement some and leave others out. All these issues need reform so that we have a better judicial system in the country. If you travel to our neighboring countries, you will find that we are not close to being call a functioning judiciary, because most of these things we demand are lacking. We want all these resolved so that we have a reformed judiciary in South Sudan.

Q: Finally, if I have a pending case right now, and I come on Monday 20th June, 2016, I will get no hearing?

Khalid Mohamed: Unfortunately, you will find nobody to listen to your case. You will find nobody. And we regret and feel bad about this situation, but this is the reality.

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