SA courts remain open for important business
  • South Africa's courts must stay open despite the national Covid-19 lockdown, because someone may want to challenge the lockdown rules, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng told judges.
  • Courts should also still hear cases around maintenance and domestic violence, those involving children, bail applications, and other urgent matters.
  • Court attendance has already been limited, under rules that predate the announcement that South Africa will go into lockdown for 21 days.
  • Go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage for more stories.

* This article has been updated below.

South Africa's courts must stay open during the Covid-19 lockdown, if only so citizens can challenge the lockdown rules, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has told judges.

Such challenges must be possible, even under a state of emergency, he said, which gives the government powers beyond those it now has, under the declared national state of disaster.

In a state of emergency, the Chief Justice wrote, the Constitution specifically empowers courts to judge the validity of that declared emergency, and "related matters".

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"Courts therefore have to stay open in case members of the public want to bring one challenge or another in relation to the constitutionality or the validity of the measures being implemented."

Physical entry to courts was already limited after the call for social distancing, but before the announcement that South Africa would go into lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But some cases should go ahead, Mogoeng said, listing:

  • any urgent matter bail applications
  • maintenance and domestic violence matters, and
  • cases involving "children issues".

Heads of courts, including magistrate's courts, have the authority to manage matters as necessary, to allow for access so such cases can be heard.

Under the previous directives non-essential visitors to courts needed the permission of the head of court to enter.

Essential visitors include litigants, accused, witnesses, people who need to support others such as children, family members, and the media.

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In a press release issued on Wednesday afternoon, the Office of the Chief Justice confirmed the new arrangements, but did not mention potential challenges to lockdown rules.

"Broadly, the courts will, as an essential service, remain open for the filing of papers and hearing of urgent applications, bail applications and appeals or matters relating to violations of liberty, domestic violence, maintenance and matters involving children," the press release said.

* This article was updated after publication to include the press release issued by the Office of the Chief Justice on Wednesday afternoon.

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