GEORGE NEWS - Although Lower and Magistrate’s Courts continue to operate to a limited extent during the coronavirus outbreak, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola announced yesterday, 25 March, that inmates in prisons across the country will not be transported to court. Constitutional Court and other Superior Courts were placed in recess.
During a press briefing in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Lamola said that postponements will be facilitated through video platforms from correctional services to the courts.
Lamola joined members of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster together with Governance, State Capacity and Institutional Development (GSCID) Cluster to brief the media about government interventions ahead of the 21-day national lockdown.
Lamola said the Master's Office would continue with essential services. "The Master's Office will continue, for insurances, with burial and other relevant necessities. The rest will have to be postponed up until there is normality."
Services would include issues such as letters of authority in relation to urgent financial need, e.g. burials, applications for maintenance out of guardian’s funds, international child abduction cases, urgent applications, children’s court matters (such as the removal of children in need of care and protection, and placement of children in child and youth care centres), as well as applications for interim domestic violence protection orders and applications for protection against harassment.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng earlier issued directives on how the courts will operate in light of Covid-19.
“The Chief Justice has, in terms of section 165 of the Constitution and Section 8 of the Superior Courts Act, already delegated the authority to make customised directives to all Heads of Superior and Lower/Magistrate Courts,” the Office of the Chief Justice said in a statement on Wednesday.
This will enable courts to remain open and operational to a limited extent as determined by the head of each court after consultation with their colleagues at that court.
“Broadly, the courts will, as an essential service, remain open for the filing of papers and hearing of urgent applications, bail applications and appeals or matters relating to violations of liberty, domestic violence, maintenance and matters involving children,” he said.
Precautionary measures include the restriction of access to the courts, court precincts and justice service points, and limiting the number of persons entering court buildings across the country. Only people with a material interest in a case will be admitted into the courts. This includes accused persons, witnesses, victims of domestic violence and/or sexual violence, the elderly, people living with disabilities, family members, the media, representatives of special interests, support groups and those supporting children.
These directives will apply during the period of the lockdown from midnight on Thursday 26 March until midnight on Thursday 16 April. In essence, the number of trials need to be limited to urgent matters only.
All audio-visual remand centres in correctional centres linked to Magistrate’s Courts must be used for purposes of the postponement of cases where accused persons are in custody and all matters where accused are kept at correctional facilities must be remanded in absentia for the period of the lockdown.
It is also crucial that recommended social distancing take place inside the courts and justice service points, and that all court users sit at least one metre away from each other whilst inside the court building.
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