High Court brings in precautionary measures so criminal trials can resume

Strict social distancing measures have been put in place for cases to be heard again in the Port Elizabeth High Court
ALL WORKED OUT: Strict social distancing measures have been put in place for cases to be heard again in the Port Elizabeth High Court

Eastern Cape deputy judge president David van Zyl said on Tuesday that although the country was still under national lockdown, the Port Elizabeth High Court would enroll matters to proceed in the interest of justice.

Criminal court cases involving multiple accused persons will only be heard later in the year, while fresh matters will be dealt with from late July and part-heard matters will go ahead next week.

Special precautions will be in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all relevant stakeholders.

Van Zyl said new directives issued by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Monday gave judge presidents of the different divisions authority to issue directives to proceed with criminal trials.

According to the directives, anyone who enters the court building must wear a facial shield or mask at all times and social distancing of at least 1.5m must be observed by everyone in a courtroom.

On Tuesday, when a reporter from The Herald entered courtroom A at the High Court building in Bird Street,  red and white barrier tape had been placed in strategic areas of the courtroom.

This included strips placed on benches in the public gallery indicating a 1.5m space between seats for members of the public.

Red strip tape had been placed on the tables where prosecutors and defence counsels are stationed, keeping them 1.5m apart, and there was barrier tape in the dock to keep prisoners apart during court proceedings.

Van Zyl said the precautions which included only two courtrooms being used  for criminal matters, was in line with the maintenance of an appropriate distance between court staff, members of the public, accused persons and other officials.

“There are various factors taken into account when deciding when to enroll a matter [and] the protocol is that only people with material interests in the matter[s] will be allowed in [the courtrooms].

“We find ourselves in a situation described by many as ‘fluid’ and we will need to adjust as we go along,” Van Zyl said.

Should lockdown levels change, the court would have to adapt accordingly, Van Zyl said.

In total, 19 cases were postponed on Tuesday, 10 of which are part-heard matters and four of those at the stage for sentencing proceedings to continue.

The part-heard matter involving three people accused of human trafficking and the rape of a 13-year-old girl was postponed to December 1.

On May 26, sentencing proceedings in the trial of convicted murderers Junior Lungisa and Sizwe Jika, who were found guilty in February of the murder of 86-year-old Anne Smit, is expected to get under way.

Pre-sentencing proceedings of convicted murderers Mbuyiseli Pikoli, 37, and Vuyani Sifunda, 21, who were found guilty of the murders of Tyrone Winston Jantjies, 52, Kenneth John Alexander, 76, and his partner Elaine Allwright, 78, and the attempted murder of Thembalethu Ndiyane, 23, is expected to be heard on June 22.

Among the nine fresh cases expected to begin later this year is the trial involving Wayne Russouw, his mother, Christine, sister Chantelle and Ronald Swartz, who are accused of the murder of Petrus Scholtz, 70. The trial is due to begin on October 6.

Former Fidelity Security driver Nontuthuzelo Majola, 34, and her co-accused Sonwabo Gcuwa, 36, Lusanda Ludziya, 34, Simthembile Qhongoshani, 33, and Sibongile Nozinxezu, 33, who face a litany of charges for their roles in a May 2018 cash-in-transit heist, are expected to appear in court on October 6.