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THE FUNCTIONING OF SOUTH AFRICAN COURTS DURING LOCKDOWN – BLC Attorneys | Port Elizabeth

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THE FUNCTIONING OF SOUTH AFRICAN COURTS DURING LOCKDOWN

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge around the world, South Africa has been putting several measures into effect in response to the nationwide lockdown which began on 26 March 2020.

On 3 May 2020, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, after consultation with the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, issued a Direction to address, prevent and combat the spread of COVID-19 in all courts, court precincts and justice service points in the Republic of South Africa. The Directions published by Government Notice No.440 of 31 March 2020 are replaced by these Directions.

The following Directions provide for the management of Alert Level 4 permitted legal services as listed in Annexure 1. These services include the following:

Permitted Services Directions
Criminal Proceedings
1. First Court Appearances
2. Postponements in absentia
3. Bail applications;
4. Consideration of continued detention of children awaiting trial;
5. Guilty Pleas;Trials in respect of corruption, sexual offences, Gender based violence and Femicide, serious violence crimes, robbery, murder, and violation of COVID -19 Regulatios;
6. Finalising partly-heard matters; and
7. Applications for leave to appeal, Appeals and reviews
– In stances where the accused is in custody and unopposed bail applications,  if the charges in question are listed in schedules 1, 5 or 6 of the Criminal Procedure Act, audio-visual link, teleconferences, videoconference and any other electronic mode may be used to postpone such matters.

– All criminal trials enrolled during Alert Level 4 lockdown must be postponed to dates after the lockdown, save for awaiting trials where detainees are held in Correctional Centers or where children are being detained in Child and Youth Care and Correctional Centers.

– Accused persons detained for petty offences must be released and warned to come back at a later date.
Civil Proceedings
1. Issue of all court process and filing of papers;
2. Urgent motion applications;
3. Urgent civil trials, incl. COVID 19 related cases;
4. Debt review applications;
5. Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms;
6. Divorce proceedings (High Court & Regional Court);
7. Taxation
– Civil matters to be dealt with online, in writing, or telephonically
– Small claims Court may not operate during Level 4 lockdown and services related to these are limited to email and telephone enquirers.

– Civil cases that are not identified as urgent may not be placed on the court roll for the duration of the period of lockdown. However, Heads of courts retain the discretion to authorize the hearing of matters.
Family Law matters
1. Child and spousal maintenance proceedings2. Foster care applications
3. International child abduction cases
4. Adoption application hearings
5. Care & contact, care and protection proceedings in respect of children, including removal to temporary safe care placement in child and youth care centre.
6. Protection orders in terms of Domestic Violence Act No.116 of 1998
– Child and spousal maintenance proceedings; protection orders in terms of the Domestic Violence Act, or the protection from harassment applications, will be able to go ahead.

– The minister also prioritized foster care applications and hearings; matters in respect of the care and contact of children, international child abduction cases, as well as adoption applications.
Master of the High Court
1. Lodgement of requisitions by way of email. 
2. Reporting and issuing of letters in all deceased estates matters
3. Reporting and issuing of appointment in all Insolvency matters.
4. Examination of L & D Accounts in all deceased estates matters lodged by email
5. Examination of L & D accounts in all accounts Insolvency matters by email
6. Reporting and issuing appointments in only urgent curatorship matters lodged by email
7. Reporting and issuing in only urgent Trust matters for the benefit of COVID-19 relief measures lodged by email
8. Receiving of applications and payments of funds from Guardian’s Fund
9. Issuing letters of executorship and endorsement of power of attorneys
– The offices of the Master of the High Court will also render its service during this time, which will include payments to natural guardians, tutors and curators on behalf of minors and persons under curatorship. The office will also process documentation required for the burial of a deceased person and the urgent appointment of curators.

These Directions are to be read in conjunction with the directives issued by the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in terms of section 8(3) of the Superior Courts Act, 2013, and the directives issued by the relevant Heads of Courts in the Superior Courts and Magistrates/Lower Courts, from time to time.

In an instance where these Directions do not deal with circumstances that relate to a particular Court, the Heads of Court shall issue Directions which address and manage those particular circumstances provided that the Directions are not inconsistent with those placed by the Chief Justice.

Please note that the directives issued by the Heads of Courts will differ depending on the court and jurisdictional area.

Please note that further directions may be issued in due course, or may have been issued to date, in light of ongoing developments around the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa.

Author: Thina Makaula

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