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Courts, legal fraternity hammered by Covid-19

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The legal fraternity, as well as the courts, have not escaped the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which has forced the temporary suspension of key services and cases.

The legal fraternity, as well as the courts, have not escaped the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which has forced the temporary suspension of key services and cases.

At least a dozen courts, lawyers’ and Department of Justice offices have been closed due to suspected and confirmed Covid-19 cases since the start of May.

The Galeshewe Magistrate’s Court was also closed on Wednesday after a policeman tested positive. All cases were put on hold while the court was decontaminated.

The Cape Town offices of the Legal Practice Council (LPC) also announced on Wednesday that an employee tested positive for the deadly coronavirus.

According to the LPC, the employee was sent home to self-quarantine and will only return once she has tested negative.

As a result, the LPC in the Western Cape has been closed and will only reopen next Thursday to allow other officials to self-quarantine and its premises to be decontaminated.

The council assured all legal practitioners in the province that its senior managers will work from home and be accessible via e-mail.

On Tuesday, three courts in Johannesburg were shutdown until due to suspected Covid-19 cases.

The Johannesburg Central Magistrate’s Court, the Newlands Branch Court and the Brixton Regional Court were closed for a two-day decontamination process and services are scheduled to resume tomorrow.

Early this month, the Protea Magistrates’ Court in Soweto also closed for decontamination after a suspected Covid-19 case was identified.

The disruption caused by Covid-19 to the functioning of the courts and the legal profession follows the Association of Regional Magistrates of Southern Africa’s (ARMSA’s) move to put on ice its bid to launch a judicial review of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to hundreds of regional magistrates a below inflation, 2.8% salary increase.

ARMSA president and Johannesburg regional magistrate Jonathan Ratshibvumo told Independent Media that while the association resolved to take Ramaphosa’s determination of salaries on judicial review the decision has not been implemented for now.

”Events around Covid-19 pandemic overtook us and as you know, only urgent applications can be heard by courts under the current regulations,” Ratshibvumo said.

He said ARMSA believed that it would be unwise and even insensitive to bring the review while the country and the world are facing the Covid-19 pandemic.

ARMSA decided to donate R200 000 to the Solidarity Fund to help the government deal with Covid-19-related challenges instead of dragging Ramaphosa to court.

”Once the pandemic is over, or at least, the regulations have been relaxed, we intend to sit as the national executive committee and evaluate the way forward, which will also be guided by the economic conditions at the time,” added Ratshibvumo.

On Tuesday, the Galeshewe Magistrate’s Court in Kimberly, Northern Cape, was also closed for decontamination due to a suspected Covid-19 case with decontamination of the court building expected on Tuesday ahead of the resumption of duties yesterday.

The Kimberley Magistrate’s Court temporarily halted its services on May 4 for decontamination for the same reason.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice’s KwaZulu-Natal regional office in Durban was forced to close for two days due to another suspected coronavirus case, which also led to the Office of the Master in the same building shutting down for a similar period.

A suspected Covid-19 case also forced the city’s magistrate’s court to shut down for two days this month.

Other magistrate’s courts in Kabokweni, Mpumalanga and Tsakane in Ekurhuleni were also temporarily shut down due to the disease this month.