Access to courts will be limited in level 4 of the national state of disaster

May 18th, 2020

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, has issued directives on how the courts will be accessed during level 4 operations. The directives are issued in terms of reg 4(2) of the regulations under the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002. The statement released by the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, stated that the measures in place are keeping with the national effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in all justice service points. They also provide information on the justice services that are available during the level 4 lockdown.

The statement said that a person who has – in the past 14 days – been in contact with, or been exposed to, another person who had tested positive for COVID-19 except a person who had tested positive but has recovered and subsequently tested negative, may not be allowed to enter a court room, court house or a justice service point during the state of national disaster. Access to the courts are limited to persons with a material interest in a case, provided that a judicial officer directs the number of persons in a room be reduced to comply with safety measures and social distancing requirements.

The statement added that audio-visual links, where these exist, must be used for the purpose of postponing cases if the accused persons are in custody and also in unopposed bail applications for charges listed in sch 1, 5 or 6 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977. Where there is no audio-visual link installed between the correctional centre and the court, other alternative audio-visual communication such as teleconferencing and videoconferencing must be used.

The statement pointed out that all criminal cases enrolled during alert level 4 must be postponed, save for prioritised cases or trials, those taking place within the context of the permitted services stipulated within the regulations or where special arrangements have been made with the judicial officer hearing the matter. Among others, trials relating to corruption, sexual offences, gender-based violence and femicide, serious violent crimes, robbery, murder and violation of COVID-19 regulations will be prioritised. Matters where children are detained in child and youth care centres, as well as correctional centres must be brought before the court for consideration of continued detention.

The statement further said that civil cases that are not identified as urgent might not be placed on the court roll. However, judicial officers may authorise matters on the court roll to be heard through teleconference and videoconference.

The following cases will be heard –

  • child and spousal maintenance proceedings;
  • protection orders in terms of the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 or the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011;
  • foster care applications and hearings;
  • matters in respect of the care and contact of children, international child abduction cases; and
  • adoption applications and hearings.

The services of process and execution of writs and warrants by sheriffs must be limited to cases, which are urgent or permitted services. A judicial officer who presides over a matter in court may – where the interest of justice requires it – order that application of any provision of these direction be deviated from. Continued services rendered by the Offices of the Master of the High Court, include payments to natural guardians, tutors and curators, or for curatorship, as well as the processing of documentation required for the burial of a deceased person and the urgent appointment of curators.

The statement added that every court manager of a service point or any person managing the courts must ensure that there is adequate supply of sanitisers and soap for people to wash and sanitise their hands. Everyone entering the court premises must at all times wear a cloth mask and observe social distancing requirements. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development said it is committed to the safety and health of its staff and members of the public.

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