South Africa’s 21-day national lockdown to help stop the spread of COVID-19 is in full swing. And with this “new normal” for the next three weeks comes a lot of questions about how certain institutions and processes will be working. The law and access and to justice are no exceptions. LAW FOR ALL is here to give you the 411 on how the courts and justice system will work during the lockdown. Good news: you will still have access to justice!
Clarity on the way forward
When President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the COVID-19 outbreak in South Africa a national disaster, subsequent rules and regulations were implemented for all citizens (with a few exceptions for essential workers and services) to adhere to. The initial rollout stated that no one may visit their loved ones at prisons and correctional facilities for 30 days (this period can be extended if deemed necessary), but there was no mention of the court and justice systems, and how they would work during this time.
So, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Facilities, Ronald Lamola, released a statement to clarify what the way forward will be for these processes. Here are the key takeaways you need to know:
The court system is an essential service
Because of this declaration, the courts in South Africa will remain open and operational. Of course, there will be measures in place to ensure the health and well-being of all. This will include:
- an emphasis on social distancing and hygiene in courtrooms
- a limit on the number of people in a courtroom or at justice service points
- reduced access to court; it will be limited to those with material interests in a case, including accused persons, witnesses, victims of domestic violence or sexual violence, the elderly, people living with disabilities, family members, the media, representatives of special interests, support groups and those supporting children.
How will court trials in South African work during the lockdown?
Civil cases that are not urgent won’t be placed on the court roll until after the lockdown. Trials will be limited to urgent and COVID-19- related cases only. This is because postponements of these types of cases could lead to gross injustice for those affected. Whether a matter is urgent or not will be determined by the respective Judicial Officer. All criminal trials will be postponed until after the lockdown unless it won’t be in the interest of justice to delay the matter.
Master Services also declared essential services
Masters 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, as well as applications for interim domestic violence and harassment protection orders.
Criminal Cases & Audio Visual Remand Centres
Criminal cases postponements will take place via audio-visual remand centres linked to the Magistrates Courts where an accused is in custody. If an accused person is kept in correctional facilities, they will be remanded in absentia while South Africa is in lockdown.
Fighting COVID-19 in prisons and correctional facilities
While most operations in prisons and correctional facilities will be functioning, certain activities will be suspended to discourage the spread of the virus. There will be added measures, like daily reporting and a focus on hygiene, implemented to ensure correctional facilities remain COVID-19 free (there have been no positive cases confirmed).
Turn to LAW FOR ALL in times of uncertainty
LAW FOR ALL’s legal experts will be working remotely during the lockdown, and are here to send your legal worries and fears packing. If you have any questions regarding access to the law over the next 21 days, feel free to get in touch with us.
- Send an Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- SMS your ‘name’ to 30838.
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