In the wake of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), several aspects of the economy have been forced to a slow trot and, in some cases, a complete halt. The Judiciary has not been excluded. To ensure that justice, the rights of litigants and the health of the public are kept in an economically friendly balance, the Judiciary has issued several Guidelines and implemented precautionary measures. The most recent Guidelines were published on 13 May 2020 (the May Guidelines).

13 May 20

90 Day Applicability in all Courts of Record
The May Guidelines apply to the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, Subordinate Courts, Local Courts and Small Claims Court. The May Guidelines will be in force for 90 days, subject to the review of the Chief Justice.

Awareness in Accessing Court Offices/Registeries
Access to court offices and registries will be subject to use of face masks, sanitisation and social distancing.

Spaced Cause Listing of Matters
Cause lists and cause-listed cases will be spread out to minimise the number of persons appearing at the same time. The Supreme Court, Constitutional Court and Court of Appeal may order that cause lists be further subdivided into sub-cause lists and assign such sub-cause lists different dates.

Attendance at Court Proceedings
Only the parties (plaintiff/defendant, accused persons, or appellants), their advocates and witnesses may be present during court proceedings. The Court may dispense with the appearance of an accused person in criminal matters where the offence is a misdemeanour. Interested parties such as relatives and friends will not be allowed to attend court proceedings, except where expressly required by law or where the court is of the view that their attendance is necessary.

A judge or judicial officer may limit the number of people in the courtroom and will have the power to order a person to exit the courtroom unless such a person is a party or advocate required to attend the proceedings. Advocates, witnesses and other court users will be required to use face masks, sanitise and observe social distancing. Witnesses will leave the court premises immediately after testifying.

Time Limits
A judge or judicial officer shall have the discretion to curtail the prolonged examination of witnesses and to limit the time of hearings. Representations or arguments on any point of law will be limited to 20 minutes.

Final submissions may be made in writing or will be limited to 20 minutes if made orally. If a party is represented by more than one advocate, only one advocate shall make oral submissions unless the court expressly allows more than one advocate to submit. If the court permits more than one advocate to submit, the total time taken for the submission of the several advocates will not exceed 20 minutes.

Delivery of Judgments
Subject to the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code in criminal matters, a court may read only the substantive part of its judgment. Where the court does so, the parties must be availed with copies of the judgment immediately after delivery.

Criminal Matters
Cases involving accused persons or appellants who are currently in custody may be heard separately from cases involving accused persons who have been released on police bond or bail.
Unless expressly permitted by the court, all interlocutory applications including bail will be on a documents-only basis without an oral hearing. Where practicable, interlocutory applications
will be conducted in a courtroom.

Trial courts may, in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, dispense with the presence of the accused when delivering judgment where the accused was not in custody during the trial or where the presence of the accused was dispensed with during trial and the sentence is fine. An appellate court may dispense with the presence of the appellant when delivering judgment if the appellant is represented.

Civil Matters
Service may be effected, where practicable, by Short Messaging System (SMS) or Electronic Mail (E-mail) The court may direct that proceedings be conducted using teleconferencing, videoconferencing and other appropriate technology.

Trial Courts may order that specific facts at trial be proved on the basis of affidavit evidence without cross-examination, in accordance with the Evidence Act. The court may issue appropriate directions in urgent matters without parties physically attending before a Judge. A court may order that interlocutory or chamber applications be determined on a documents-only basis.

Alternatively, where parties are represented, attendance to chamber applications may be limited to their advocates.

Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Partner Mulopa Ndalameta.