KILLER VIRUS CAUSES JUS­TICE TO SLOW DOWN

Pretoria News - - METRO - ZELDA VEN­TER zelda.ven­[email protected]

FOR the past two decades and then some, the Gaut­eng High Court, Pretoria, has been my sec­ond home where I gos­siped in the cor­ri­dors with the le­gal fra­ter­nity and got many news tips. But this all changed overnight. To­day is the start of the ur­gent court week. No mat­ter that the court is in the Easter re­cess, court is at any given time a buzz of ac­tiv­ity. Es­pe­cially at the start of ur­gent court week. But not this week.

In terms of di­rec­tives is­sued by Chief Jus­tice Mo­go­eng Mo­go­eng, in light of Covid-19, ac­cess to the courts is re­stricted to per­sons hav­ing a ma­te­rial in­ter­est in a case. The di­rec­tive stip­u­lates th­ese will be lit­i­gants, ac­cused, wit­nesses and those who may need to pro­vide support such as ac­com­pa­ny­ing child-vic­tims. And the me­dia. The chief jus­tice has al­ways been very aware of the im­por­tance that the pub­lic should be in­formed about what hap­pens in our courts.

But th­ese are ex­tra­or­di­nary times and vis­i­tors who are not ma­te­rial to the case will only be al­lowed into the court with the per­mis­sion of the head of court.

This has placed an enor­mous bur­den on the poor se­cu­rity staff, who have to fig­ure out who may be al­lowed in and who not. Not an easy task at all if con­fronted with ir­ri­tated le­gal ea­gles and mem­bers of the gen­eral pub­lic.

While no measures for a court lock­down has been an­nounced to date, it could be on the cards in the near fu­ture as another mea­sure to curb the in­fec­tion rate of Covid-19.

The pub­lic may be barred, but there can never be a to­tal lock­down as es­pe­cially ur­gent ap­pli­ca­tions in­volv­ing chil­dren will have to be ad­ju­di­cated.

While both Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ron­ald Lamola and Chief Jus­tice Mo­go­eng have urged that non es­sen­tial cases be post­poned, it is prob­a­bly the pris­on­ers await­ing trial who will suf­fer the most. Some have been wait­ing for months, if not more than a year, for their day in court.

Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices is tak­ing spe­cial pre­cau­tions to pre­vent in­fec­tion among its 163 000 pris­on­ers.

All prison vis­its have been sus­pended until April 15 and courts are di­rected to post­pone crim­i­nal tri­als for the time be­ing.

Yes, this will un­doubt­edly cause an enor­mous back­log which will take months, per­haps even years, to clear but we have to un­der­stand the con­text of th­ese times, and that pre­vent­ing the spread of this virus is the most im­por­tant thing right now.

There is a fa­mous say­ing that jus­tice de­layed is jus­tice de­nied, but the counter ar­gu­ment is that the wheels of jus­tice do turn – al­though in many in­stances – very slowly.

One per­son who can at­test to this, is former South African Na­tional Defence Force mem­ber Moza­mane Maswan­ganyi. He was ar­rested in 2010 on a charge of rape. Four years later, he was im­pris­oned for life fol­low­ing his con­vic­tion.

In 2015 his con­vic­tion and sen­tence were over­turned on ap­peal and he was re­leased from prison. But the prob­lem was that the SANDF had al­ready fired him.

The Supreme Court of Ap­peal in Bloem­fontein agreed with the SANDF that it was within its rights to do so.

But a decade after his ar­rest, Maswan­ganyi even­tu­ally re­ceived the jus­tice he had been fight­ing for, when the Con­sti­tu­tional Court over­turned his dis­missal.

With the bit­ter comes the sweet, as the SANDF will now have to pay his salary back­dated from July 18, 2014 – from the day when he was con­victed and fired.

He is lucky his case is re­solved; oth­ers will just have to wait. I will miss my daily vis­its to the court but we must all do our bit. If we all do our part in fol­low­ing the rules, we can hope­fully avert a cri­sis. It is up to us.

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