Coronavirus scares halt wheels of justice across the country
At least a dozen courts, lawyers and Department of Justice offices have been closed due to suspected and confirmed Covid-19 cases this month.
The latest offices to be affected were the Cape Town offices of the Legal Practice Council (LPC), which announced yesterday that an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.
According to the LPC, the employee was sent home to self-quarantine and would 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 would work from home and be accessible via e-mail.
On Tuesday, three courts in Joburg were closed 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 were expected to resume tomorrow.
Early this month, the Protea Magistrate's Court in Soweto also closed for decontamination after a suspected Covid-19 case.
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) decision to freeze its bid to launch a judicial review of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to award hundreds of regional magistrates a below-inflation 2.8% salary increase.
Armsa president and Johannesburg regional magistrate Jonathan Ratshibvumo said 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 the Covid-19 pandemic overtook us and as you know, only urgent applications can be heard by courts under the current regulations,” he said.
Ratshibvumo added that Armsa believed that it would be unwise and even insensitive to bring the review while the country and the world were facing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Armsa decided to donate R200000 to the Solidarity Fund to help the government deal with Covid-19-related challenges instead of dragging Ramaphosa to court.
On Tuesday, the Galeshewe Magistrate’s Court in Kimberley, Northern Cape, was also closed for decontamination due to a suspected Covid-19 case. The Kimberley Magistrate’s Court temporarily also had to halt its services on May 4 for decontamination.
Earlier this month, the Department of Justice’s regional office in Durban was forced to close for two days due to a suspected coronavirus case, which also led to the Office of the Master in the same building shutting down for a similar period.
Magistrate’s courts in Kabokweni, Mpumalanga and Tsakane, Ekurhuleni, also had to shut this month.