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COVID-19 cripples justice system

Francistown High Court PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
FRANCISTOWN: When the first reported case of COVID-19 was discovered in city of Wuhan in China in November 2019, many people then did not know that the disease will virtually affect every facet of live-socio, economic, political and cultural spheres.

Botswana just like all the country’s in the world was not spared of effects of this deadly virus which has now mutated into new strains.

The footprints of COVID-19 in Botswana have been felt across different sectors-from the entertainment industries and even the hallowed judiciary amongst others have not been spared by the virus.

When officiating at the opening of the legal year in February, Chief Justice Terrence Rannowane expressed displeasure about how the Coronavirus has paralysed the country’s judicial system due induced restrictions. Rannowane said during the lockdown, courts could not run as efficiently as they ought to adding that the inability to sit has had undesirable consequences of increasing the backlog of cases. “The COVID-9 pandemic with its associated restrictions has resulted in a spike in outstanding cases. Nonetheless, the pandemic has not deterred us from our resolve of pursuing reforms and developing systems and tools that enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the judiciary including chopping the case backlog,” Rannowane said.

Due to the state of affairs, many courts of laws in the country have been sporadically closed after some judicial officials contracted the coronavirus. for example, during September last year, the offices of the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) in Francistown were closed after a driver at the AGC tested positive for Coronavirus. Following that, government then took a decision to close the AGC’s offices as a precautionary measure to curtail

the spread of the virus following the confirmed COVID-19 case.

 This resulted in the prosecution and defence lawyers not appearing in various courts which further compounded the dire situation of backlog of cases. Last week the wheels of justice ground to a halt when the Francistown High Court was closed after some employees of the Administration of Justice (AoJ) tested positive for Coronavirus.

When different stakeholders of the Court thought that the situation will get back to normal this week, disaster struck again this week Tuesday after other employees of AoJ also tested positive for Coronavirus. According to officials of the AoJ and attorneys, the Francistown High Court will now be opened on March 15.

The overarching effects of the closure of the High Court in Francistown are obvious-backlog of cases. However, it needs to be emphasised that COVID-19 does not only lead to backlog of cases-it also results in some litigants not getting various services at the courts such as bail not on time.

In dire situations, on remand prisoners who are awaiting bail are forced by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to stay for longer periods in jail. In the beginning of this month, the Francistown Magistrates Courts had to close for close to two weeks after a magistrate contracted the virus. This was the second time that the Francistown Magistrates Courts were closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.


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