THE High Court will only operate with one judge to hear urgent matters during the current lockdown while magistrates’ courts countrywide will only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays to hear urgent criminal matters only.
The measures, announced by High Court and Court of Appeal registrar, Advocate ‘Mathato Sekoai, are part of the judiciary’s efforts to contain the deadly Covid-19 pandemic within its ranks.
They come against the background of Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s decision to implement a lockdown from Thursday until 27 January 2021.
During the lockdown, the country’s borders will be closed and all international travel banned except in exceptional circumstances.
Intra and inter-district travel has also been banned while restrictions have also been imposed on many economic activities as part of measures to halt escalating infections.
Several government departments, businesses and private organisations have scaled down operations by reducing working hours, ordering staff to work from home and reducing staff complements at their offices.
In the same vein, Adv Sekoai issued a circular stating that the judiciary would also scale down its operations to deal with the scourge.
“Pursuant to the official statement issued by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro in which he ordered a countrywide lockdown from 14 to 27 January 2021, the general public, court users and all stakeholders are kindly advised to take note of the services which the judiciary will be offering:
“The High Court shall hear bail applications on Mondays only from 10am. A judge on call shall stay at home ready to avail himself to entertain extremely urgent matters throughout this period. Whenever there is an urgent application to be moved, the office of the registrar shall be contacted on cellphone numbers: 57527071, 58954218, 59441301 and 58788711,” Adv Sekoai said.
“The Master of the High Court shall only offer monetary services which relate to food and medical purposes only and such services can be accessed through the cellphone numbers: 58071503 and 50522639.
“The magistrates will be available on Tuesdays and Thursdays only from 10am to 1pm each week to deal with urgent criminal matters (including remands and bails). Inmates shall not be brought to court unless it is absolutely necessary. There shall be no business at all at the central and local courts during this period.
“The management of the magistrates’ courts can be reached on the cellphone numbers: 58884073, 63056205 and 58034768.”
Last July, the judiciary lost Justice Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane who succumbed to Covid-19 complications.
Her death came a month after the death of another Judge Lebohang Molete. The judiciary had also lost Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane, who died from an undisclosed illness in March 2019. Their deaths aggravated the chronic understaffing in the judiciary which is now struggling to deal with a huge backlog of cases.
Following Justices Chaka-Makhooane and Molete’s deaths, the Commercial Division of the High Court was left without any judges and the situation remains that way to this day.
The High Court is now down to just eight judges following the 31 July 2020 retirement of Justices Semapo Peete and Teboho Moiloa.
The remaining judges are Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane, Justices ‘Maseforo Mahase, Tšeliso Monapathi, Thamsanqa Nomngcongo, Molefi Makara, Moroke Mokhesi, Keketso Moahloli and Polo Banyane.