Deputy Minister says the executive, the judiciary and the DOJ should work together to help flatten the curve of COVID-19

May 19th, 2020

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, told legal practitioners to direct any concerns about court services to him. Mr Jeffery was a speaker on a webinar hosted by Goldfields Attorneys Association, where he addressed the impact of COVID-19 on the legal profession. He said that the executive, the judiciary and Department of Justice should work together during the national state of disaster to help flatten the curve of COVID-19.

Mr Jeffery said it is known that COVID-19 is spread by human contact. He pointed out that the key thing, is to reduce human contact in the legal sphere to help flatten the curve of the virus. He added that he was told about two judicial officers who had travelled to different courts for functions, and they have tested positive for COVID-19. He said that this has caused a serious problem, because the two judicial officers came into contact with other judicial officers and they now all have to go into quarantine.

Mr Jeffery highlighted that in level 4 of the national state of disaster, important regulations for legal practitioners include reg 16(2), which states that workers can leave home for work to perform essential services, and reg 16(4), which refers to legal practitioners travelling between municipalities. He said under reg 16(4)(a), workers should have a permit to perform essential services. Mr Jeffery pointed out that the process of issuing permits for the legal profession has been simplified, as before there were concerns that only the Legal Practice Council (LPC) could issue permits to legal practitioners. Permits can now be issued to legal practitioners by the following heads of institutions –

  • the Executive Officer of the LPC established in terms of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014;
  • the Director of a provincial LPC;
  • the senior partner or managing director of a firm of attorneys or a person designated by them; and
  • a practising attorney who is a sole practitioner and in the case of a practicing advocate, such advocate.

Mr Jeffery said that essential services in Annexure D are related to the functioning of courts and the following essential workers are related for those services, namely –

  • judicial officers;
  • Masters of the High Court;
  • Sheriffs; and
  • legal practitioners.

Mr Jeffery added that the Minister of Justice is empowered to issue regulations, which he did in terms of reg 4(2). However, he pointed out that it is important that legal practitioners take into account that the legislative making process is time consuming and needs a lot of consideration. He said the processes for both the Disaster Management Regulations and the Directions had to be sped up, which has resulted in unforeseen consequences at times. He added that what they had tried to do with the Directions, was to submit a draft to the LPC, but due to time pressures the amount of time given for comment was relatively constrained and he acknowledged that the regulations were gazetted a bit late.

One of the crucial issues that Mr Jeffery spoke about, was the issue of a relief fund for legal practitioners and Sheriffs. He said that Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, has written to the LPC, the Legal Practitioners Fidelity Fund and other institutions to assist in that regard. However, Mr Jeffery pointed out that he did not have any further details regarding the relief fund for legal practitioners and Sheriffs.

Mr Jeffery said that one of the things that the department is promoting are mediation and arbitration services particularly in level 4. He added that the use of the alternative dispute resolution mechanism can assist parties in civil disputes. Parties can settle matters or reach an agreement to limit matters and that will mean less time spent at courts. However, he pointed out that, there are a couple of challenges and the department has a bit of work to do to finalise the issues, in terms of setting up the regulations relating to mediation, which currently apply in Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

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