Legal fraternity question mask policy at courts

Niël Terblanché

Members of the legal fraternity in Namibia are questioning the validity of the re-introduction of precautionary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 after an alleged recent resurgence of the illness.

Last week, the Office of the Judiciary informed all employees, the legal fraternity as well as members of the public that precautionary measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 in the superior courts of Namibia will again be enforced.

This week, the Acting Chief Magistrate, Vanessa Stanley issued a memorandum to all staff members of the lower courts in which she states that it has become incumbent on them to re-introduce precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus due to a surge in positive Covid-19 cases.

Members of the legal fraternity, however, questioned the lawfulness of the directives from the Registrar and the Acting Chief Magistrate.

“The Higher Court implementation of a new Covid-19 prevention regime beggars the mind,” Advocate Richard Metcalfe said in a message to the judiciary.

He stated that there are no laws in the country that allows for the unilateral decision taken by the Registrar.

“The public would incur no risk by refusing to comply with what is an illegal invasion of their rights and bars access to justice by those who fail to comply with what is merely an administrative decision. It calls into question the eternal question in a properly functioning democracy, which is: Who guards the guardians?” Metcalfe wrote in his message.

The re-introduction of preventative measures came ten months after Namibia declared that Covid-19 no longer pose serious danger to society.

More recently, in April the World Health Organization (WHO), declared that the pandemic is officially a thing of the past because Covid-19 no longer represents a global health emergency.

Metcalfe described the decision as an irresponsible move in the delicate current national climate.

According to Stanley’s directive, members of the public and officials will have to practice precautionary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 while attending proceedings at Magistrate’s Court in Namibia

“These measures should be implemented with immediate effect although you may exercise your discretion to defer full implementation until no later than 29 May 2023 so as to ensure the content of the directive is brought to the attention of all court personnel, the legal fraternity and members of the public,” Stanley said in the memorandum.

Stanley directed court officials and staff to implement prevention measures at all Magistrates ‘ Court buildings in their respective magisterial districts.

All persons entering a court building should wear a mask; they should sanitize their hands before entering a court building and must maintain social distancing of at least 1.5 metres.

The Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, recently warned Namibians that although the danger of the illness, brought on by the virus has waned, infection still occurs and that immune-compromised individuals might still experience serious adverse effects from the disease.

Dr Shangula said that Namibia moved out of the health emergency status in July 2022 because of all the steps the country took in concert with the international community but he warned that the danger of getting infected still remains.

“I think it would be prudent for all Namibians to keep on practising preventative measures that we learned during the onset and the duration of the pandemic,” he said

The health minister said that measures such as the washing of hands, the wearing of masks and other precautionary measures helped Namibia quickly bring the virus under control and that continuing with it will keep people from getting infected with Covid-19 or other preventable diseases.

In the meantime, it has come to the attention of Windhoek Observer that certain officials saw an opportunity in the new directives from the Office of the Judiciary and are now capitalising on the situation by selling masks to unsuspecting members of the public who must attend court cases.

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