Chief Justice stops court sittings over COVID-19

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, on Monday, directed courts to stop sitting pending the issuance of the National Judicial Council’s guidelines for the reopening of courts amid the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.
Muhammad who doubles as the Chairman of the NJC expressed worry that some courts had been sitting without waiting for the guidelines with the attendant risks or exposing judges within the age bracket of high potential risk.
It will be recalled that the NJC at its first virtual meeting held on  April 22 and 23 had set up a 10-man committee headed by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour to develop a practical strategy for how courts would continue to function in the  COVID-19 pandemic era.
The 14 days period given the committee to turn in its report will lapse this week.
In his memo addressed to ‘All Heads of Courts/Judicial Bodies, Federal and State Judiciaries and which appeared on NJC’s website on Monday, the CJN said the committee was expected to recommend measures, including “how courts could leverage on Technology to hold virtual sittings or remote hearings.”
The memo titled, ‘Re: Implementation guidelines for the containment of COVID-19 issued by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19’ and with reference number, NJC/CIR/HOC/II/658 May 2020, stated, stated that in line with the phased easing of the lockdown by the PTF only staff on the Grade Level 14 and above should resume duty.
The memo also stated, “In addition, the National Centre for Disease Control had made an announcement to the effect that we are now at community transmission phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Furthermore, it is a fact that many of our judges and justices are in the high-risk category in terms of age bracket, resulting in many having underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virulent manifestation of the disease once infected.
“Hence, we cannot afford to put them and their families at risk by allowing a haphazard resumption of court without clear Guidelines and Protocols that will safeguard the health and wellbeing of the judges, lawyers, court staff as well as members of the public.
“It is, however, observed that some Courts, without awaiting the outcome of the NJC Committee, have resumed and continued to conduct proceedings as if normalcy has been restored.
“It is for the aforementioned reasons that all heads of courts and judicial bodies are directed to continue to abide by the NJC Circular No. NJC/CIR/HOC/II/656, dated April 6, 2020.”

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