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A brief look into how COVID-19 will affect court operations in Zimbabwe

Practice Direction 1 of 2020 – An intervention to control court processes in light of COVID 19

What happens to pending matters before the Courts?

The COVID 19 has resulted in serious disruptions to court matters. Pursuant to the decree of a National Lock Down by the President, the judiciary through the Chief Justice issued out Practice Direction 1 of 2020 which directs the courts’ operations only for the next 21 days ending 19 April 2020.

The Practice Direction applies to all courts from the Constitutional Court to the Magistrates Courts. We provide in this article the essentials directives noteworthy that have an impact on matters pending before the Court.

Will the courts be entertaining any new matters?

No new cases (actions through summons or applications) will be issued or filed with the Courts for the next 21 days. The only exceptions provided for are urgent applications, bail applications or initial remands. However, it should be noted that the directive uses the word “may” implying that the Court retains its discretion to assess first on the urgency of the matter.

What happens to those matters that were/are pending as at the date of the National Lockdown Order?

All civil matters pending in the High Court and Supreme Court that were set to be heard within any of the days falling in the 21 days, are deemed to have been postponed to the next term which will commence in May 2020. New Setdown dates will be issued by the Registrars on when the matters will be heard.

All civil matters pending in the Magistrates Courts that were set to be heard within any of the days between 30 March and 19 April 2020, are deemed to have been postponed to the first business day following the last day of the lockdown.

In respect of all criminal matters, all current remand dates that fall within the 21 days have been added 21 days to them.

What about filing of processes and pleadings with time limits (dies induciae)?

Normally, court procedures have time limits or timeframes. An intervention was made in the Practice Direction by providing that the operation of the dies induciae (time limit to file a process or pleading) has been suspended and will not run for the next 21 days. The operation thereof will resume on the first business day after the lockdown. The Registrars and the Clerks of Court shall not be accepting the filling of any process unless they are part of an urgent chamber application, bail application or remand.

Conclusion

Those parties with matters that are pending should be assured that no administrative prejudice will be occasioned to them as there have been interventions made as shown in the above. Essentially, court proceedings have been placed in abeyance and will resume after 21 days. The challenge however, is what will happen if the lock down duration is extended? Indications on the ground and from neighbouring jurisdictions point to the fact that extension of the lockdown period is likely.  

Our Commercial Litigation team prepared this article for informational purposes. Please contact us for legal advice.