We have it on good authority that the idea of working from home as a means to keep the deadly coronavirus at bay is not as easy as expected. In the Judiciary, Chief Justice David Maraga was compelled to send a stern warning to magistrates and judges taking advantage of this to shun their duties.
The CJ accused a few judicial officers of frustrating the Judiciary’s effort to conduct proceedings remotely to ensure justice is done in these difficult times. Since he announced the suspension of court attendance a month ago, there has been progress in virtual proceedings. This is meant to prevent magistrates, judges, other staff, litigants and their lawyers from contracting the virus.
The consequences of the partial shutdown include worsening the perennial case backlog. Mr Maraga has, during his tenure, prioritised the clearance of the numerous pending cases. However, his legacy could end up being tainted as the judicial boss who came in breathing fire but left behind a mountain of unheard cases.
Technology is a good option but there are challenges, including ignorance, capacity and poor internet connectivity. This is why it makes sense to seek other means to complement the virtual proceedings. One is to explore the use of limited court appearances, where only the magistrate or judge, prosecutor and the litigant’s or suspect’s lawyer take part. That would discourage crowding in courts, in line with the social distancing rule, and enforce other safety measures, including washing hands with soap, using sanitisers and maintaining a high level of hygiene.
The government has allowed restaurants to resume operations on condition that the owners and patrons strictly adhere to the safety guidelines, particularly regarding Covid-19. There is no reason why this cannot be done in the courts as well.