By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN
THE Judiciary has taken urgent practical steps as of yesterday to keep judges, magistrates, staff litigants, practitioners, accused and public court users safe from the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer said the judiciary is also taking steps to protect its staff, court users, lawyers, judges, and magistrates and keep their workplace safe.
“The measures being adopted are intended to ensure that the Courts remain open and function for litigants in these challenging times and will be reviewed regularly as circumstances dictate,” Sir Albert said.
He said these overriding guidelines shall prevail in the event of a conflict.
One of the steps taken by the court as precautionary measures against the COVID- 19 is the monitoring of people in the courtrooms.
Sir Albert said public access to hearing in Court Rooms will be strictly monitored and controlled.
“The public will have to be seated no less than one meter apart from each other and where available, members of the public are encouraged to use and wear masks.
“This should help reduce the possibility of infection to other court users, judges, magistrates, counsel, and court staff included, in particular, if there are carriers of the virus but do not display any symptoms,” he said.
“This will now mean reduced numbers of members of the Public able to access our courtrooms.
“In order to cater for this reduction in numbers, access will be prioritized as follows: parties, witnesses, close family members or relatives, Police and Correctional personnel on official duties in court, court officers and staff on duty, the media and any other persons were given permission to enter, subject to court space being available.
“A judge or magistrate will always be at liberty to determine whether to close the hearing to the public in his or her discretion,” Sir Albert said.
He also said any member of the public experiencing and displaying flu-like symptoms, such as coughing and sneezing, runny nose, feverish and or a sore throat and basically feeling unwell, should not attend court and may be prevented by Court Officials from accessing the Court Room.
“In other words, if you are not well do not come to court, stay at home, get rested and well before coming to court.”
The chief justice said the same guidelines applied to any witness, legal counsel, court staff and other court officers.
“Judges and Magistrates are to exercise their discretion, bearing in mind the health and wellbeing of all in court to decide whether or not to grant an adjournment,” Sir Albert further added.
He said all court sittings and court circuits should continue as normal but with heightened awareness and alertness on the wellbeing of all court users, save, where the hearing or circuit could be convened for reasons beyond the control of anyone.
“It will always be subject, however, to the discretion of the Court in consultation with other stakeholders to determine whether a sitting or circuit may be deferred to a later date where convenient and or appropriate.”
He said registry services including attending to filing and registration of cases, conducting searches of files, certification of documents, etc. should continue as normal until further advice.
He said with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services ("MHMS") health protocols and advice to be observed, overcrowding at Registry places must be avoided.
“At this point in time it is not necessary to reduce registry services but precautionary and basic hygiene practices should be observed by all, including members of the Public.
“We ask that everyone cooperate with us so that registry services for the public and court hearings can be maintained as much as possible in these trying and difficult times.”
Sir Albert said members of the public are advised to queue a line and maintain at least a meter in distance between each other at all times.
He added all workshops, seminars, training, and meetings will be suspended indefinitely until such time as it is deemed appropriate and more convenient to hold them.
Sir Albert said the Court is trying to remain consistently operational by minimizing the risk of infection and closure in the event the COVID - 19, Corona Virus should reach the Solomon Islands.
“There will no doubt be some form of inconvenience, restrictions, and delays experienced for some hearings, trials and court appearances, including circuits in the coming weeks,” Sir Albert said.
Sir Albert added that the National Judiciary is doing its best as well to keep up with the changing times and demands being placed on its work and so seeks the co-operation of all parties and their representatives in working collaboratively to ensure the Court continues to be able to provide a safe, efficient and flexible service for parties over the coming months.
“We urge all to take good care of yourself and avoid putting yourself and others around you at risk.”
“Finally, continue to pray for God's mercies and protection for the Solomon Islands and our people from the COVID-19 Corona Virus,” he added.