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Litigation in the high courts of South Africa during Lockdown Level 4

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Litigation in the high courts of South Africa during Lockdown Level 4

The Supreme Court of Appeal has indicated that no hearings will take place during the month of May.

It has indicated that unless the parties are set on oral argument the matters will be considered by the Judges on the strength of the record on appeal and Heads of Argument filed. Judges may ask for supplementary Heads of Argument to be filed at their discretion.

In the Western Cape, no appeals will take place in the last week of the term. Previously the last week of the term was reserved for Appeal Hearings only. This effectively provides an additional three days for the hearing of civil matters. This arrangement was put in place in order to reduce the backlog.

Civil Trials during the month of April were removed from the Trial roll automatically and were to be set down on the first available date. This was first and foremost to be done by agreement between the parties.

Where the parties cannot reach agreement the matter will be referred to the Judicial officer and then be place on a Judicial Case Management Conference roll for consideration.

All unopposed applications will be considered by the Judicial Case Managers and if an argument is necessary the parties will be contacted.

Where Applications have been opposed unless the parties are set on having oral argument these will be determined on the papers together with Heads of Argument.

Both the Johannesburg and  Pretoria High Courts have extended their electronic pilot project to provide for the filing and exchange of documents electronically.

Similarly, Trials and all Applications will only be heard once all the documents are uploaded electronically. A Judicial Officer will then consider whether or not a matter can be determined on the papers supplemented by Heads of Argument or alternatively argument is to be presented by video conference or telephone.

Civil Trials and Unopposed Applications which have not been postponed to set dates may be rescheduled and the Registrar may be approached to arrange an alternative date.

In light of the President’s announcement of 23 April 2020 and the reduction of the lockdown from Phase 5 to Phase 4 the current court directives dated  20 March and 17 April 2020 will remain in place through the second term, this means to the end of June 2020.

Subject to restraints and conditions set out in the President’s address, which will in time be amplified by the various Ministers, some return to work for legal practices and advocates.