Courts to remain open for limited functions during lockdown
All pending and fresh cases set down on the Port Elizabeth High Court’s criminal roll during the 21-day coronavirus lockdown period will be postponed, the court heard on Wednesday.
The decision resulted in 14 criminal cases — among them the high-profile Timothy Omotoso rape and human trafficking trial — being postponed on Wednesday.
This came after senior state prosecutor Mujaahid Sandan told judge Mandela Makaula that, following a directive from the judge president, no cases would be heard in the Port Elizabeth High Court.
“For all part-heard and fresh matters further dates will be arranged,” Sandan said.
The decision follows a circular sent out on Tuesday by Eastern Cape judge president Selby Mbenenge to the registrar’s offices of various courts, urging them not to set down any cases to be heard over the lockdown.
On Wednesday, Sandan told Makaula that he — along with fellow state prosecutor Liesel Landman and head of the Legal Aid Port Elizabeth high court division, advocate Jodine Coertzen — had contacted various counsels for accused persons standing trial to confirm the postponement dates.
Of the 14 criminal cases that were postponed, none of the accused were in court on Wednesday for various reasons, including getting them there from correctional facilities.
The facilities included St Albans prison where, according to Sandan, certain sections were not allowing prisoners out of the grounds at all.
Invoking section 159 of the Criminal Procedures Act (CPA), which provides for cases to be heard without the presence of an accused, Makaula postponed the cases which included, among others:
- The trial of Timothy Omotoso and his co-accused, Lusanda Sulani and Zukiswa Sitho. While Omotoso remains in custody, a warrant of arrest for Sulani and Zukiswa will stand over until they are expected to appear in court on April 20. They were initially set to appear on April 14.
- Sentencing proceedings of convicted murderers Junior Lungisa and Sizwe Jika, who were found guilty in February of the brutal murder of 86-year-old Anne Smit. They were to appear on April 14, but will now appear on April 20.
- The murder trial involving Wayne Russouw, his mother, Christine, sister Chantelle and fourth accused Ronald Swartz, all accused of the murder of Petrus Scholtz, 70, and stashing his body in a freezer. The new trial date is April 20.
- The human trafficking and rape trial of two men and a woman accused of trafficking a 12-year-old girl to marry a 61-year-old Greenbushes man. That matter will also be heard on April 20.
- Closing arguments in the case against Mkhuseli Ngqanda, 29, Fikile Mengo, 27, Sinethemba Nenembe, 33, and Thanduxolo Vumazonke, 23, accused of the 2015 murder of pensioner Denise Webber. Their case continues on April 17.
Judiciary spokesperson Nathi Mncube said on Wednesday that, after two directives issued by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, all courts would continue to operate to a limited extent to “deal with urgent matters” during lockdown.
“The chief justice has ... delegated the authority to make customised directives to all heads of superior and lower/magistrate courts,” Mncube said.
This would allow courts to remain operational to a limited extent as determined by the head of each court, he said.
“Broadly, the courts will, as an essential service, remain open for the filing of papers and hearing of urgent applications, bail applications and appeals, or matters relating to violations of liberty, domestic violence, maintenance and matters involving children,” Mncube said.