Chief Justice issues directives that will apply in the extended lockdown

April 22nd, 2020
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By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, has issued new directives after President Cyril Ramaphosa, announced the extension of the unprecedented nationwide lockdown. In a media release issued by the Office of the Chief Justice, it stated that the directives will apply to the extended lockdown period. The directives are as follows:

  • Parties wishing to have a matter, which has been set down for hearing during the lockdown period, removed from the roll shall jointly do so by issuing notice thereof to the Registrar.
  • Subject to the directives (set out below), only urgent applications and urgent matters arising out of or from the activities associated with disaster management may be heard in open court during the extended lockdown period.

Criminal trials

Criminal cases already set down for hearing during the lockdown period shall be brought forward by arrangement with all the relevant parties, and postponed to dates beyond the lockdown period. In circumstances where the accused appears in absentia and/or is an awaiting trial prisoner, the provisions of s 159 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 shall be invoked.

Civil trials

Subject to the provisions of paragraphs below, all civil trials enrolled for hearing during the lockdown period shall forthwith be removed from the trial roll.

  • The legal representatives of the parties, shall in the spirit of cooperation, confer with one another so as to agree on suitable alternative trial dates and shall, on reaching agreement, inform the Registrar, accordingly.
  • The parties will further inform the Registrar of any particular matter that is capable of settlement.
  • In the event that the matter is settled during the lockdown period, and the parties are in agreement in relation to the terms of the order, the Registrar may be requested to place the matter before a judge in chambers for the granting of a consent order.

Applications

  • Unopposed applications

Subject to what is set out below, there shall be no open court sittings during the lockdown period, save for urgent applications referred to in the criminal trials paragraph above, which includes bail applications.

Unopposed applications already enrolled for hearing during the lockdown period will be dealt with in the following manner:

  • The Registrar shall draw a roll of unopposed applications identified as capable of being dealt with by way of video conferencing and shall thereupon provide the parties with necessary information to facilitate the hearing of such matters. Matters not capable of being dealt with in the manner provided for shall be postponed to dates after the lockdown.
  • Any rule nisi with a return date falling within the lockdown period, and which was granted prior thereto, shall be extended to dates beyond the lockdown period. Where this cannot be achieved, for reasons of urgency, the matters are to be referred to the duty judge for directions as to the future conduct thereof.

Urgent applications shall be dealt with by the duty judge concerned, subject to such directives as they may issue.

  • Opposed applications

Parties are requested to file their heads of argument electronically. The parties shall further endeavour to reach agreement dispensing with the presentation of oral arguments and will, to that end, inform the judge presiding in the matter of their decision by no later than noon on the preceding Friday.

Matters where the parties have been unable to reach consensus or matters where the presiding judge directs that argument be presented, shall be heard by way of video conferencing, and the Registrar shall provide the parties with relevant information to facilitate such hearing.

Appeals

The provisions of s 19(a) of the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013 shall mutatis mutandis apply to the hearing of appeals, save that the presiding judge or, in the case of the Supreme Court Appeal, the President, shall solicit the views of parties prior to making a determination in terms of the section.

In the event that it has been determined by the judges to whom the appeal has been allocated that oral submissions are to be made in pursuit of the appeal, precautions shall be put in place to eliminate the need for practitioners to attend court. To that end, the hearing shall be by video conference on such terms as may be determined by the presiding judge or, in the case of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the President.

Applications for leave to appeal

The provisions of these directives applicable to appeals shall apply mutatis mutandis to applications for leave to appeal.

Judicial case flow management

There shall be no case flow management conferences held before a judge in chambers or civil roll call hearings convened during the lockdown period. Instead, the case management judge or assigned roll call judge shall communicate electronically with the parties and issue such directives as may be necessary to ensure the trial readiness of the matter.

The statement concluded by saying that the Heads of the Superior Courts will – where necessary – issue circulars, not inconsistent with these directives, to manage such matters as are relevant to their particular courts, which are not addressed herein.

The statement added that the measures referred to in the directives issued on 17 March 2020 shall, mutatis mutandis, continue being enforced during the extended lockdown period.

The statement further said that the directives shall be interpreted and given effect to within the spirit and purport of any regulatory instrument that may be issued by the designated minister in terms of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002, for the management of courts and administration of justice during the lockdown period.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.