The Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, has directed all courts in the FCT to resume regular proceedings from Monday, May 11.
The order was communicated in a practice direction published on the court’s official website titled “COVID-19 Practice Direction” and signed by the Chief Judge on May 8.
Sofonews.ng reports that the FCT High Court on May 5 began virtual proceedings with three courts conducting proceedings via social media, a teleconference video application.
Before then, all courts in the country were ordered to suspend all sittings except in urgent matters in March by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) during its first virtual meeting held on April 22 and 23 set up a 10-member committee led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, to develop a practical strategy for how courts would continue to function during COVID:19 pandemic.
Last Monday, The Chief Judge of the FCT High Court directed all courts to stop sitting pending the issuance of the NJC’s guidelines for the reopening of courts.
Following this, the council on Thursday released guidelines for court proceedings to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
A day after the NJC released the guidelines, Mr Bello directed the reopening of all courts in the FCT.
Giving new practice directions on how court proceedings should be carried out, the chief judge said safety measures must be strictly adhered to.
“The honourable judges and learned magistrates shall ensure the strict observance and enforcement of the rules of physical distancing and the wearing of face masks by court staff, counsel, litigants and all persons inside the courtroom and/or within the precincts of the court,” he said.
“Every litigant or group of litigants suing or being sued together in a cause or matter shall be represented by not more than one counsel in the courtroom. Where the rules of the legal profession or other exigency make it imperative for counsel to appear with another counsel, then only one junior counsel shall be led in the cause or matter.
The Chief Judge further said that criminal matters that require the presence of defendants in prison custody would be suspended until further notice.
“In order to avoid a situation where traffic in and out of correctional Centres (prisons) may catalyse the spread of COVID-19 to inmates, hearing in criminal matters requiring the production of defendants in custody is hereby suspended until further notice,” Mr Bello said.
He said the specific time for hearing individual cases should be indicated “in order to avoid the convergence of counsel and parties in the courtroom from the beginning of the day’s proceedings.
“The court shall allot time for each party to present his or her case, taking into consideration the peculiarities of each case.”
The chief judge added that only parties to a case and their counsel shall be allowed into the courtroom.
“In all cases (whether criminal or civil), only the parties and their counsel shall be allowed into the courtroom, subject to a maximum number of ten (ten) persons (excluding court officials) at any given time. In representative actions or other matters with multiple parties, only one representative shall be allowed.
“The honourable judges and learned magistrates shall keep to the barest minimum the number of staff/clerks working with them in the courtroom.
“In addition to observing social distancing and wearing of face masks, all court officials are advised to wash their hands with soap, apply recommended hand sanitizers regularly and comply with all advisories issued by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
“The honourable the chief Judge may review this practice direction and/or issue further directives as prevailing circumstances may render expedient or necessary.”