Fighting against the spread of the coronavirus could throw our courts and their processes into doubt, as the Chief Justice prepares to address the nation.
The courts of South Africa may face a radical new way of operating between now and when their second term begins in April. The Chief Justice’s office has issued a statement on Tuesday, confirming that an urgent meeting will take place this afternoon to determine how the judiciary deals with the coronavirus outbreak.
On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a number of directives designed to keep South Africans safe in the face of this unprecedented crisis. One of the measures includes the practice of “social distancing”, which requires people to stay more than a metre away from one another at all times – and it prohibits public gatherings.
Of course, our courts are a hotbed activity, and hearings often attract big groups to small rooms. Tuesday’s meeting of the judiciary is likely to put the brakes on several major processes, and the Gauteng High Court has already blinked in this regard:
They announced a set of emergency steps on Monday evening, which come into effect until 14 April 2020. It will serve as a blueprint, for which the rest of the nation is likely to follow. Their temporary set of rules prohibit the in-person filing of new cases, while banning members of the public from attending any court hearings unless they’re directly involved. The whole list includes:
It all makes for some very interesting hypotheticals. Take Jacob Zuma, for example: He is automatically prohibited from attending his next court date on 6 May…you know, the one where a warrant of arrest will be issued against him if he doesn’t turn up. But his age and medical conditions may mean that, even after the second term begins for the judiciary, he must still avoid public spaces, including courtrooms.
Matters like these are likely to be addressed by the Chief Justice later in the day:
“The heads of court will tomorrow, Tuesday 17 March 2020, convene an urgent meeting to discuss the pronouncement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa relating to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
“The meeting seeks to ascertain the measures needed to be adopted, in order to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on the courts. A media briefing will be held by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, and the heads of court, at 13:30 to 14:00.”Office of the Chief Justice
#CoronaVirusSA #Coronavirussouthafrica #COVID19SouthAfrica public are prohibited from sitting in the public gallery or entering a high court in the Gauteng Division. But Litigants in person must defend any application or summons. pic.twitter.com/1SzqPUZaZj— Ramola Naidoo (@RamolaNaidoo1) March 17, 2020