Courts re-open after two months Corona-driven recess

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020 00:00 |
Chief Justice and the president of the Supreme Court David Maraga. Photo/PD/FILE

Alphonce Mung’ahu

The Judiciary yesterday scaled up court operations with new guidelines in place, which saw judges and magistrates begin to hear cases at the Milimani Law Courts.

Members of the public and lawyers, including Danstan Omari, Kirathe Wandugi, Kennedy Kang’ah and Sam Nyaberi, were screened outside the gate before being directed where to go for their cases.

Hearing and mention of cases was conducted at the parking bay where about 10 units were put up for the exercise due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The move follows direction by Chief Justice David Maraga to reopen court operations from yesterday in line with the Covid-19 prevention measures.

Earlier, calls by lawyers to the CJ to reconsider his decision to shut down courts had intensified, with most arguing that the ongoing electronic system of filing cases was not enough.

Most lawyers said the Constitution does not contemplate a situation where courts are closed, saying the CJ ought to reconsider his decision by allowing some daily operations in view of the current circumstances relating to the pandemic.

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“We request some duty officers to deal with matters on a daily basis,” said the lawyers, adding that there should be some skeleton staff even at the registries to handle filings of documents by lawyers and litigants.

According to the CJ, the new measures of reopening are geared towards scaling up the operations in the courts safely.

He said that to promote social distancing, they shall limit the number of people physically accessing the courts at any given time. 

Maraga urged the public and lawyers to cooperate with the officers responsible at the court entrances.

The judiciary added that when allocating hearing dates, priority will be given to cases whose hearings were affected by scaling down of court operations from March 16.

“To control crowds, courts will allocate staggered hearing schedules each day, parties should note their allocated time and keep the schedule. Virtual hearings will continue...” the statement on reopening guidelines read in part.

In Nakuru county, operations at the Nakuru Law Courts returned to normal with top judicial officers overseeing observance of Covid-19 safety guidelines issued by Maraga.

A spot check established that all the magistrates courts were attending to both civil and criminal matters while the High Court Division remained closed. 

At the principal magistrates’ courts, scores of accused persons who observed social distancing and personal hygiene such as washing their hands and using sanitisers turned up for mention of their cases.

Residents hailed the gradual return to normalcy at the courts, saying it would help clear the backlog of cases.

Joel Kimani, a witness in a capital case, said he was relieved that the matter, which was postponed following outbreak of Covid-19, had now been assigned a hearing date.

“I appreciate resumption of operations at courts. It has been my desire and that of my family to put this matter to rest as we have been living in fear of the accused or their relatives in the criminal case,” he said.

The up-scaling of operations comes nearly two months after Chief Justice Maraga announced the scaling down of court operations to ease compliance with Covid-19 safety rules.

On March 16, the CJ suspended all court proceedings and issued guidelines directing that no member of the public should be allowed entry into court premises.

And on April 21, Maraga again suspended re-opening of courts and encouraged the use of technology following the Health ministry’s warning that the country had entered a phase where infections are community-driven.

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