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Concern over ‘dirty’ courthouse

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A community member indicated that the area around the court had not been deep-cleaned.

MEMBERS of the public were prevented from entering the Ritchie Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday by security guards, due to a lack of hand sanitisers and safety protocols, while court staff on Thursday also refused to enter the container that serves as a courthouse. 

A community member indicated that the area around the court had not been deep-cleaned, while adding that security guards killed two snakes in the long grass that has not been cut for some time. 

“Security is supposed to conduct patrols every hour but cannot due to the overgrown weeds. They are not provided with gloves, hand sanitisers or masks while they have to control access into the court. There is no ventilation in the makeshift court, the toilets leak and the area where offenders are kept is overcrowded.” 

Another community member added that court officials, clerks, prosecutors and a magistrate from Kimberley presided over the cases in Ritchie.

“This is while the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court was temporarily quarantined on Monday after a police officer who was in the building tested positive for Covid-19. 

“Court sits on Wednesdays and Fridays so there is expected to be a large number of people at court tomorrow (Friday). We feel exposed to the virus because no screening is taking place.”  

Ritchie ward councillor Bonsile Makhamba said that he approached the court manager after receiving the complaints. 

“A commitment was made to make a screening register available and to disinfect the place. There were concerns raised regarding possible cross-infections from Kimberley,” said Makhamba.

“The court manager instructed that sanitisers be made available to the court. It was indicated that there is one hand sanitiser at the court that was obtained from the SA Social Security Agency as none were provided by the Department of Justice.” 

He added that due to the lockdown, cleaning and maintenance of the court was not taking place. “Community members have complained that the court is unacceptably dirty.” 

Meanwhile, staff at the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court who were in contact with the police officer who tested positive for Covid-19 are still awaiting their test results. 

“We are worried about the test results and at the same time we are afraid of returning to work because we are not always provided with personal protective equipment and feel very exposed,” said staff members yesterday.   

Department of Justice and Correctional Services spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said that any person who has been in contact with or exposed to a person who has tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 14 days, may not enter a courtroom, court house or justice point during the national state of disaster. 

“Every court manager or manager of a service point must ensure that there is an adequate supply of sanitisers and soap for people to wash their hands. Everyone entering the court premises must wear a face mask at all times and observe social distancing,” said Phiri.

He added that access to courts should be limited.

“During Level 4 restrictions all enrolled cases will be postponed and urgent matters will be attended to.

“The provision of legal aid by Legal Aid South Africa is limited to telephonic advice services on the call centre number 0800 110 110. 

“The department reaffirms its commitment to the safety and health of its staff and members of the public. While some sites of service have been affected by Covid-19, mitigating measures to address the spread of the virus at these points have been taken.”