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No court shutdown, says chief justice

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“All court buildings shall be secured to avoid exposing judicial officers, court staff and members of the public to risk.”

MATTERS on the court rolls in the Northern Cape will continue for now, following restrictions that were implemented by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng yesterday to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Mogoeng indicated, however, that the situation could “change dramatically” should millions of South Africans become infected, whereupon a shutdown would become unavoidable.

Mogoeng urged South Africans to pray, “for the sake of this country”, while addressing the media in Johannesburg yesterday.

He highlighted the need for all court buildings to have running water, toilet paper, soap, disinfectant wipes and all other relevant health and safety material.

“A distance of one metre shall be maintained between people seated in a courtroom.”

Mogeng stated that litigants; accused; witnesses; those who may be needed to provide support, such as those accompanying children, victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, the elderly and people with disabilities; family members; representatives of special interest or support groups; and members of the media are permitted to enter the court precinct.

“All court buildings shall be secured to avoid exposing judicial officers, court staff and members of the public to risk.”

He said all reception and admission areas, community service centres, courtrooms, cells, detention facilities, offices, lifts, vehicles, biometrics and ablution facilities, handles and taps would be decontaminated.

“Floor and work surfaces of courtrooms and the premises as well as workplaces, with special focus on maintenance, domestic violence and children’s courts, be disinfected with disinfectant material periodically, at least twice a day during working hours.”

Mogoeng added that all officials at reception, admission and operational areas would be issued with heavy-duty gloves, disposable gowns, masks and protective eye shields.

“Officials will be assigned to sanitise the hands of officials, including service providers, persons in custody, inmates and visitors at all entry and exit points.”

He stated that sanitiser dispensers containing 70 percent ethyl alcohol would be installed at all points of entry, exit, work stations and in the passages and corridors.

“Gloves shall be sanitised between searches and hand-held infrared thermometers (scanners) shall be made available to conduct the temperature screening of judicial officers, staff and members of the public.”

Mogoeng indicated that judicial officers and court staff displaying any symptoms were required to self-isolate and seek medical intervention.

“This also applies to judicial officers and staff members who have travelled to a high-risk area or been in contact with a person who has recently travelled or displays symptoms.

“The judiciary will make proposals to the executive for the need for the judiciary to issue directives for courts and court operations.”

On Monday, Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo had issued an urgent directive to all judges, court staff, law practitioners and the public, indicating that only legal practitioners, witnesses and accused be permitted to attend court hearings until April 14.

“No member of the public is permitted to enter the court building, or to attend any hearings, whether civil or criminal, as a spectator. Only practitioners, witnesses and accused persons are permitted to attend.”

Mlambo added that apart from urgent matters, judges and staff would only deal with matters that were already enrolled for hearing.

“Counsel are advised not to attend judges’ chambers for purposes of introductions. All introductions are suspended. Judges will not shake hands with any practitioners.”