THE High Court in Harare has been thrown into turmoil after six judges and several officials were placed on quarantine after contracting Covid-19 or coming into contact with infected persons, it has emerged.
On Tuesday, Chief Justice Luke Malaba issued practice direction 3 of 2021, regulating the operations of courts during the extension of the Level IV national lockdown introduced by Statutory Instrument 37 of 2021 announced over last weekend.
With effect from 5 January 2021, the filing of new cases, process, documents, pleadings and papers shall be suspended for the period up to 15 February 2021.
All summonses, subpoenas and warnings in court issued directing accused persons and or witnesses to appear in court between 5 January 2021 and 15 February 2021 are cancelled and shall be reissued after the expiry of the lockdown period.
ln light of the extension of the national lockdown period, the practice direction shall accordingly remain in effect until the expiry of the extended lockdown period.
The government is already operating with skeletal staff — 10% — after four ministers died of Covid-19. Even President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his two deputies Kembo Mohadi and Constantino Chiwenga have working from home amid fears of going to their offices even during a time of emergency.
Zimbabwe has been ravaged by the coronavirus, with 1 288 deaths so far, as of yesterday. This comes as High Court judge Clement Phiri on Monday succumbed to Covid-19 complications at his home in Marondera, days after he tested positive for the deadly respiratory virus.
Judicial sources said the situation is worrying as a backlog of unheard court cases is mounting and may take long to clear. Some judicial activities were already crippled by Covid-19.
Lawyers told The NewsHawks this week they are failing to have their cases heard because of judges’ absence. Early last month, a High Court member of staff, Casper Madzimbamuto, who was the chief interpreter, also died of Covid-19 complications.
“There are six judges currently on quarantine. Four (names supplied) tested positive, while two have had their close family members test positive. Besides those, a number of staff members are also on Covid-19 quarantine and this has seriously affected work here,” a source in the judiciary said.
“It’s a crisis. Judges are coming on ad hoc basis, mainly for bail hearings but a lot of cases have been indefinitely postponed. What this implies that when normalcy returns, there will be a huge backlog of cases which will take a long time to clear.”
An advocate who failed to have two cases heard at the High Court also said: “When the lockdown was imposed on 5 January, it was said that four judges had gone into quarantine after contracting the virus. It was around the same time that an interpreter died.
“I went there for a hearing and was told the case had been indefinitely postponed because of this. Last week, I had another case before a different judge also postponed on account of the quarantine.”
Another senior lawyer who had a case postponed also said: “It’s of course frustrating because we would want to conclude cases as soon as possible, but there is actually nothing anyone can do about this virus which has caused terror around the world. We only hope and pray that the situation improves as soon as possible.”
Despite having earlier promised to respond to The NewsHawks’ inquiries, Judicial Service Commission head of communications and corporate affairs Rumbidzai Takawira later declined to comment on the matter, saying: “I am not allowed to speak on health issues; it’s a bit of a tricky one.”