By Fidelis Munyoro
Chief Justice Luke Malaba has suspended all regular court operations and scaled back other courthouse activities, with the Sheriff and Messenger of Court ordered to stop evictions and executions, following a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases.
The suspension of court business comes after Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also Health and Child Care Minister, announced fresh 30-day lockdown regulations on Saturday following a spike in coronavirus cases.
In a memo also known as the Practice Direction issued on Sunday, which applies to the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the High Court, the Labour Court, the Administrative Court and the Magistrates’ Courts, Chief Justice Malaba said the reintroduction of Level IV national lockdown measures had necessitated the issuance of the practice direction to guide court operations, filing of pleadings, process and handling of cases before the courts for the duration of the lockdown period.
He said with effect from yesterday, the filing of new cases, process, documents, pleadings and papers shall be suspended for 30 days up to February 3, unless the period is earlier extended or revoked.
Only initial remands, urgent applications and bail applications shall be entertained.
In addition, registries shall be open for litigants and legal practitioners on week days between 8am and 3pm to accept process related to matters specified in the Practice Direction note.
The Sheriff and the Messenger of Court shall only serve process relating to urgent applications, but shall not conduct any evictions, executions or sales in execution flowing therefrom, according to the notice.
Litigants, lawyers and witnesses shall at all times be subjected to temperature checks and sanitisation of hands at entry into court premises.
They are also required to wear face masks in the manner prescribed by law, avoid person to person contact, and maintain social distancing as prescribed by law.
“Any person who does not comply with the requirements specified . . . shall not be allowed entry into courthouse or shall be asked to leave the court premises or courtroom or courthouse,” said Chief Justice Malaba.
“Entry into court premises/ courthouses/ courtroom shall be limited to litigants, their legal practitioners, necessary witnesses and identified members of the press.”
Further, entry into court premises or courthouses will strictly not be permitted to the public who have no business at court while litigants who are required to attend court in a province or district other than where they are normally resident, shall obtain the necessary letters of clearance at the nearest police station.
Chief Justice Malaba said the time limited by any rule for the filing of process, pleadings, documents and/ or papers was suspended for the duration of the lockdown.
“Any act required by the rules to have been done during the period of the lockdown within a specified period of time, shall be done within the specified limit calculated from the first business day following the last day of the lockdown period,” he said.
All pending civil cases are deemed to have been postponed and the registrars and clerks of court of the respective courts will reset the matters in consultation with the parties in line with set guidelines.
Similarly, all pending criminal cases on remand by virtue of the practice direction, have been rolled over for a period of at least 30 days.
Subpoenas and warnings in court issued directing accused persons and/ or witnesses to appear in court between yesterday and February 3, were cancelled and shall be reissued after the expiry of the lockdown period. The Herald.