All criminal courts have now been declared an essential service under the lockdown regulations, along with other courts to the extent directed by the Chief Justice, opening the way for the resumption of criminal trials and directed civil matters.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, courts limited their work to remands on criminal charges, bail hearings and hearings agreed to be matters of urgency.
In an amendment to the lockdown regulations through Statutory Instrument 101 gazetted yesterday, Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Obadiah Moyo declared as essential the support staff of the courts, including the Sheriff of the High Court and messengers of court “other than the carrying out of evictions or executions or conducting sales in execution”.
While the amended regulations did not set any conditions for court hearings, the Chief Justice before the lockdown had already limited access to court rooms to those who had to be present during a trial or hearing.
The amended regulations also repeat the definition of a face mask given on the last statutory instrument on Saturday, making it clear a face mask that cover the nose and mouth, can be improvised or manufactured and does not have to meet the public health standards for personal protective apparel.
Repeating the definition allows the main regulations to be amended to make it clear that at permitted gatherings — funerals, waiting at bus stops, queuing at a shop, travelling on a bus, working in an essential service and visiting a hospital — not only has to observe social distancing, the previous requirement, but must now also wear a face mask.
These face mask requirements are already covered by Saturday’s statutory instrument making them mandatory in public, but the amendment removes any possibility of ambiguity.