Chief Justice David Maraga has suspended open courts and directed proceedings to be conducted remotely in compliance with health safety rules against Covid-19. “This does not mean that the courts have closed as some would want to claim, court operations will never be closed,” he said, adding that allowing court room interactions would jeopardise the fight against Covid-19 pandemic and endanger the public. The CJ encouraged the use of technology in the court session following Health Ministry’s warning that the country has now entered a phase where infections are community-driven.
According to Maraga, the courts were deemed hotspots for the virus if they were left to operate normally. This is due to the following factors analysed by the NCAJ;
• The heavy human traffic in courts that attracts people from all walks of life (court staff, witnesses and suspects) posed a risk to the spread of the virus.
• There is quite a number of Judicial officers who conduct their sessions from their chambers making it difficult to keep social distancing.
• Court activities involve extensive exchange of paper work hence the risk of accelerating spread of the virus through court room activities.
• Court users comprise of senior members that fall in category that is considered vulnerable to Covid-19. “By them appearing in court will put them in harm’s way.”
However, Maraga insisted that the key court functions such as plea taking of urgent criminal cases will continue to take place. Police officers were also urged to release minor offenders on bond or bail as long as they present the suspects in court within 24 hours. Maraga said all pleadings will be filed and served electronically and judgement will be delivered via video conferencing or via email. On Friday, the Chief Justice gazetted new directions legalising service through Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram or any other mobile phone enabled messaging applications. With the courts closed due to risks posed by Covid-19, the Judiciary is taking advantage of technology to ensure the wheels of justice keep turning.