On 23 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to enforce a nation-wide lockdown, commencing at midnight on Thursday 26 March and enduring for 21 days (until 16 April 2020) in an attempt to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa. On 09 April 2020, the nationwide lockdown was extended by a further two weeks, until 30 April 2020, to prevent the rapid spread of Covid-19 in South Africa.
Numerous court practice directives have been published in order to address, prevent and combat the spread of Covid-19 in South African courts pursuant to the announcement of the nationwide lockdown. In summary,:
- access to courts is restricted;
- courts will only hear urgent matters;
- matters which are currently enrolled for hearing in the normal course during the nationwide lockdown period will generally be postponed until after the lockdown period has concluded;
- in certain instances, subsequent legal processes may be attended to by way of electronic means;
- social distancing guidelines will be enforced; and
- stringent health and safety measures will be implemented at courts.
In the absence of clear practice directives to the contrary or, in respect of certain courts, any practice directives at all, it remains unclear how the nationwide lockdown will affect the practical operation of certain courts exactly and, specifically, how matters currently enrolled for hearing and further legal processes in respect of matters already initiated will be dealt with going forward. Practice directives are continually being published in order to amend the necessary processes accordingly, to balance the interests of justice and the risk associated with the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa.
In the circumstances, we urge our clients to communicate with their Webber Wentzel advisor regularly in order to discuss how recent developments may affect their matters specifically and to potentially make such alternative arrangements as may be required in present circumstances.
The aforementioned does not constitute legal advice and is not intended to constitute an exhaustive list of the measures which are currently being implemented by South African courts pursuant to the directives which are being published in light of the constant developments relating to the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.