Now that the entire country has moved from level 4 to level 3 of lockdown under the National Disaster Management Act, 2002: Amendments issued in terms of Section 27(2) on 28 May 2020, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services has released a further directive with regards to the administration of justice throughout the justice system. These include High Courts and Magistrates Courts as well as the Master’s office. Courts can now be accessed by any person who has a material interest in the case this includes litigants or accused persons, their legal representatives, witnesses and also persons needed to support the litigant.
The Judicial or presiding officer can determine how many persons can enter the court so that they comply with safety measures and physical distancing requirements. Once in Court, all persons are to wear cloth face masks and to stand at least 1,5 meters apart. Courtrooms will be disinfected regularly.
Any person who has been in contact with or exposed to another person who has tested positive for Covid-19 cannot enter a court until that person has tested negative. With regards to criminal matters, a priority list will be compiled in consultation with the National Prosecuting Authority where required. Where matters involve children these will be given priority.
The default position is the use of audio-visual hearings unless the presiding officer deems it appropriate for the litigants to appear in court in person. The Directives also make provision for matters to be referred for mediation or arbitration at any time prior to judgment being handed down.
We hope that all Courts will comply with the new directives and take these on to ensure that matters continue to be heard and dispensed with.
Perhaps the most important component of the Directive is the provision for the Master of the High Court to continue in its functions. This includes issuing letters of appointments in all deceased estates, lodgement of requisitions, examinations of L & D Accounts, Curatorship matters, Trust matters and payment of funds from the Guardians Fund.