‘Closed for the holidays’- Mozambican Justice

In Mozambique the courts close for 60 days from December until February for the ‘judicial vacation’ (férias judiciais). For emergency matters, shifts are arranged by the Supreme Court only at the court of first instance as regulated by articles 27 and 28 of Law 24/2007. At the moment there is a proposal before the First Commission of Parliament to revise this system and reduce the duration of the holidays to 30 days.

But let’s reflect on the context and the implications of this provision, regardless of the exact duration of the judicial vacation. There are about more than 300 judges in a country of more than 28 million of people. This means that the system is already under-resourced, having one judge for every 100 000 people. In addition to presiding over trials, the judicial authority is the only one with the jurisdiction to authorise detention (for offences fora flagrante delito). Further, all arrestees (for offences in or fora flagrante delito) must be brought before a judicial authority within 48 hours (extendable up to 5 days). After 48 hours the law provides for the release of a suspect. Prisoners who concluded their sentences, and are waiting to be released require a warrant of liberation (mandato de soltura) issued by a judge in order to leave prison.  

The judicial holidays therefore place the delivery of justice on hold for some two months.  Sending justice itself on holiday add to the backlog of an already strained system, victims remain without support, and the rights of detainees, such as to a speedy trial, are compromised. Shortening the judicial vacation will be a welcome change to address some of the problems noted in the above, although December is also known for a seasonal increase in crime. Police and prosecutors are left to deal with this as cases cannot proceed to trial.

However, resistance to the proposed change is expected as representatives of the category react, judicial holidays are for the internal organisation of court activities. It is also true that it is not possible to look at judicial holidays without assessing the productivity of the courts. The few judges have a huge work load, as evidenced by other news. In-depth research should be conducted to understand how long cases (civil and criminal) take to finalise and the impact of the judicial vacation on case processing. It also needs to be established if case duration is the same in different parts of the country. This will help to create a clearer and evidence-based picture of court productivity and possible geographical disparities. On the basis of productivity, one could reward judges who do their work well despite the many difficulties and thousands of problems of judicial offices, and penalise those who do not work well or little, making the whole machine more effective. Regardless of these questions raised, the fundamental issues is that sending justice on holiday for two months punishes people whose guilt has not been proven and extends the punishment of those who have already served their sentences.

Tina Lorizzo (REFORMAR- Research for Mozambique)

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