Justice Minister Ronald Lamola says courts will be open – but with restricted access – during the nationwide lockdown, which is aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
Friday marks the first day of the 21-day lockdown in which movement will be curtailed and businesses which don’t offer an essential service will be shuttered.
“Our courts, court precincts and justice service points will be open, albeit with limited capacity, therefore, the public can rest assured that the administration of justice will not be compromised during the lockdown period.
“All users of the courts and justice service points must know that their safety is paramount and we are taking the necessary precautionary measures to prevent and minimise the spread of the virus,” Lamola said.
Precautionary measures include limiting the number of people who are able to attend cases and reducing the number of people in courtrooms.
Only litigants, the accused, witnesses, family members, members of the media and people who may be needed to provide support, such as those accompanying children, victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse, and disabled people, will be able to enter courtrooms, department spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said.
For the 21 days of the lockdown, the execution of writs by sheriffs will be limited to urgent cases.
Audio-visual remand centres
All evictions and the execution of attachment orders (including the removal of movable assets and sales in execution) are suspended with immediate effect.
Those who have been exposed to the virus or who are from high-risk countries will not be allowed to enter the court precinct or justice service points during the lockdown.
Criminal cases will be conducted via audio-visual remand centres linked to Magistrates’ Courts, which will be used for the postponement of cases in which the accused are in custody.
All criminal trials will be postponed until after the lockdown, except where the interests of justice dictate otherwise, or where arrangements were made with judicial officers.
Civil cases that are not urgent will not be placed on the roll for the lockdown period, but heads of court have the discretion to decide whether to hear the matter, and whether it should be heard via teleconference or video conference.
Safety measures will also be implemented in courts, such as sanitising and ensuring that seating is at least one metre apart.
“All members of the public entering a court, court precinct or justice service point must report at the security station, have their hands sanitised and complete a form indicating whether they have travelled overseas within the last three weeks, display any Covid-19 symptoms, have been in contact with any person diagnosed with Covid-19 and have been tested for Covid-19.
“If so, those people must be taken to a designated area, set apart for isolation, and the head of office must be informed immediately and he or she must decide whether access should be granted or refused,” Phiri said.