Due to the lockdown and Covid-19 pandemic, the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), Justice Maya, confirmed that there will be no physical hearings during its second term this year, but that parties who wish to argue their matters by means of oral argument will do so by way of web-based conferencing.
Traditionally the SCA has four terms in which appeals are heard. These are 15 February to 31 March, 1 May to 31 May, 15 August to 30 September and 1 to 30 November.
With the national lockdown that had been announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the end of March, set to end on the 30th of April 2020, it so happens that the very first hearings for the SCA's second term are scheduled for Monday 4 May 2020 at 09:45. This would leave very little time for the legal practitioners involved in these matters to finalise their travel arrangements to Bloemfontein, bearing in mind that the SCA hears matters which originate from all over the country.
A further consideration is that the SCA requires all counsel appearing in a matter to arrive in Bloemfontein the evening before the hearing to ensure that court proceedings can commence on time at 09:45 without any delays due to flights or otherwise.
With the above-mentioned in mind, as well as the directives issued by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Justice Maya confirmed that there will be no physical hearings during May 2020. All parties involved in matters set down for hearing during May, have the choice of having their matters decided without oral argument, but in this instance the parties will be afforded the opportunity to file supplementary heads of argument should they so wish. The specific details for these heads of argument would then be stipulated by the presiding judge in each case.
Parties in favour of arguing their matters by means of oral argument will however proceed by way of web-based video conferencing. The SCA and the relevant IT-department would provide the specific details regarding the platform to be used etc.
Lastly, should parties to a hearing be of the opinion that in-person oral arguments are necessary, these parties may confirm same in writing. The Presiding Judge will then issue a directive for that specific matter, which could mean that it would be postponed to another term later on in the year.
It is clear that the SCA does not wish to hamper the finalisation of any matters in light of the prejudice which unnecessary further postponements would cause to the parties involved and therefore, the SCA has clearly chosen to keep the wheels of justice turning - albeit in a slightly different manner.