News24 Wire
Wire Service
4 minute read
31 Mar 2020
10:57 am

How Cape Town Magistrate’s Court is coping with coronavirus rules

News24 Wire

'Please, people! Make a line!' pleads a frustrated security guard, but this goes unheeded, as people surge forward to get a form.

Cape Town Magistrate's Court.

There was a mini-scrum outside the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Monday for a document to apply for permission to enter, in line with the justice department’s coronavirus rules.

But how well did people fare with physical distancing?

Those who got a copy of the first round of documents out-crowded the security officials, who pleaded with people to keep their distance in line with measures to flatten the curve of Covid-19.

“Please, people! Make a line!” pleaded a frustrated security guard, but this went unheeded, as people surged forward to get a form.

They were worried that they would not be allowed in to get a quick glimpse of a friend or relative who would be making a swift appearance by audiovisual remand, or to be present as witnesses or complainants.

Court ordered people to be ready to appear by 8.30am, and by then a large group was already lining the sunny side of the street waiting for the court doors to open.

Instead of the usual sirens that signal the arrival of detainees from Pollsmoor and Goodwood prisons, there were angry shouts of “why are you risking our lives like this?” and “No! I’m standing right here!”

On the other side of the road, regional court officials formed an outdoor enquiries office, also with a queue in the road, with one woman being told that protection orders were still being issued during the lockdown.

The lack of sirens was because Justice Minister Ronald Lamola stated that accused persons physically appearing in court would be the exception during the coronavirus lockdown.

As the group became restive, another guard fetched orange cones to show how far 1.5 metres was, and how to queue. He wanted to create a protective cordon between the security guards and those trying to enter.

Extra copies of the document required ahead of entering the building, were fetched for the people arriving.

They put the forms on the walls nearby to fill them in.

The form requires a name, address, ID number and the reason for the court visit.

It also asks if the applicant has experienced a cough, sore throat, fever or chills or shortness of breath. It also enquires whether the applicant has returned from international travel in the last month and refines the question to whether the return was 15 or 14 days ago.

The form also asks if they have been in contact with anybody who tested positive for Covid-19, whether they are awaiting a test result or if they have worked at or attended a healthcare facility treating patients with Covid-19.

The documents were taken inside the court building and the guards, who wore masks, emerged and called out the names of those who could enter.

Inside court, the usual security checks were conducted by a woman wearing a light blue windbreaker and a mask and gloves, and the accompanying permission form was stacked in an old printer paper box.

In court, the magistrate repeatedly sanitised her hands as the brown case files did the rounds between her, the prosecutor and the clerk.

From time to time a woman entered the court to do a headcount. She asked that people not directly involved in the case before court wait outside so that social distancing could be observed in the already denuded public gallery.

Police officers came and went with masks, and interpreters pulled their masks down to be heard clearly, then put it back on.

The audiovisual remand system was in full swing, with detainees entering a small room at either Goodwood or Pollsmoor prison, accompanied by a masked department of correctional services official for the quick “court TV” postponements.

Their lawyers also wore masks and gloves, but Adiel Jansen, the prosecutor in court 16 where News24 was following cases, observed health department advice to only wear a mask if in contact with a person with Covid-19.

Legal Aid lawyers asked after each of their clients’ well-being via the “court TV” system.

Among those in court 16 on Monday were a woman accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend in Dunoon; a mother accused of neglecting her children and allegedly going to a shebeen during lockdown; and a taxi driver accused of the murder of traffic official Walton van Rooyen.

Warrants of arrest were also issued for those who did not arrive for their return court date but News24 understands it is not the kind of warrant that provides for arrest on sight.

It is a warrant that allows the person to return to court at the next date and explain any extenuating circumstances. The court was assuming that some of the no-shows were due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, which could be an extenuating circumstance.

By 1pm, the court day was almost finished and the road outside was nearly deserted, save for some washing somebody had placed on the road to dry.

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