Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola has published new regulations which introduce a number of changes to South Africa’s courts, police stations and legal system during South Africa’s 21-day coronavirus lockdown.
The regulations – which were published on Tuesday (31 March) – restrict court access to people with ‘a material interest in a case’ and entry into the courts and court precincts may only be allowed in respect of urgent and essential matters.
However, the most interesting changes pertain to current criminal cases, with Lamola declaring that an accused person arrested for a petty offence must be released and warned to appear in court on a future date.
While the regulations do not specify what constitutes a ‘petty offence’, the regulations state that police officials and prosecutors must, where necessary, fix bail in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, and where necessary, release an accused person on warning in terms of section 56(1) of the said Act.
Other notable changes which form part of the regulations include:
- All criminal trials enrolled during the lockdown must be postponed to dates after the lockdown, save for trials where the interests of justice dictate otherwise or where special arrangements have been made with the judicial officers involved in the matter;
- No awaiting trial detainees held in Correctional Centres and police holding cells may be brought to any court or court precinct, unless for a first appearance, a bail application and a matter where special arrangements have been made with the judicial officers involved in the matter;
- Civil cases that are not identified as urgent and essential services may not be placed on the court roll for the duration of the period of lockdown. However, Heads of courts retain the discretion to authorise the hearing of matters through teleconference or video conference or any other electronic mode;
- Legal practitioners who are engaged in litigation processes during the lockdown must seek a permit authorising them to do so from the Provincial Director of the relevant Provincial Legal Council;
- A number of family matters (including adoption, maintenance orders, and interim restraining orders) will still be dealt with.
You can read the full regulations below: