CHIEF Justice Luke Malaba has announced that lawyers and litigants filing urgent chamber and bail applications at superior courts are no longer allowed to attend hearings to make oral representations or arguments in response to the 30-day national lockdown regulations.
The new regulation, which came into effect last Friday, is set to remain in effect until the expiry of the Level IV lockdown period.
Litigants are also barred from filing any new court applications save for urgent ones and bail applications.
In a statement, CJ Malaba said the new practice direction applied to the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, High Court, Labour Court and Administrative Court.
“With effect from 22 January 2021, a judge may consider and dispose of an urgent chamber or bail application on the papers without calling the parties to make oral representations or arguments, provided that in respect of bail applications, parties shall be at liberty to file heads of arguments with or immediately after filing their applications or opposing papers,” he said.
In accordance with Paragraph 7 of Practice Direction 1 of 2021, courts are currently offering limited services namely initial remands, urgent processes and applications and bail applications.
“This practice direction is designed to give guidance on the hearing of urgent chamber and bail applications for the duration of the lockdown period,” said CJ Malaba.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) also cancelled the traditional ceremony signifying the opening of the legal year in response to the 30-day national lockdown regulations.
The 2021 Legal Year started on January 11.
CJ Malaba recently directed judges of all superior courts and magistrates to suspend regular court operations and postpone pending criminal and civil matters in compliance with the 30-day national lockdown regulations.
The suspension of court business comes after Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also Health and Child Care Minister, recently announced fresh 30-day lockdown regulations following a spike in coronavirus cases.
The reintroduction of Level IV national lockdown measures 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.
The filing of new cases, process, documents, pleadings and papers was suspended for 30 days until the end of the lockdown period on February 3 unless the period is either extended or revoked.
All summonses, subpoenas and warnings in court issued directing accused persons and witnesses to appear in court between 5 January 2021 and 3 February 2021 were cancelled and shall be reissued after the expiry of the lockdown period.
Where an offender is required to perform community service at an institution which is closed for the duration of the lockdown period, the performance of community service was suspended and shall resume on the first business day following that last day of the lockdown period.
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.
CJ Malaba directed registrars of the superior courts to reset the matters down in consultation with the parties.
Courts will, however, continue to hear bail applications and initial remands, where there are constitutional rights involved, and will continue to hear urgent matters.