News

Plans to open courts despite restrictions

  • New Act to eliminate Covid-19 judicial delays

By Pamodi Waravita

 

A new Bill that was presented to Parliament on 8 June will be enacted within this month to provide temporary provisions to facilitate Court proceedings despite the spread of Covid-19 in the country or the prevalence of travel restrictions.

The Corona Virus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) Temporary Provisions Bill aims to accommodate all instances “where persons are unable to perform certain actions required by the law to be performed within prescribed time periods; to assign alternative courts where a court cannot function; to conduct court proceedings using remote technology; and to grant relief in relation to parties to certain contracts who are unable to perform contractual obligations due to Covid-19 related circumstances.”

The Court of Appeal recently, issuing a notice, stated that it has enabled digital hearings for certain matters, following the implementation of the “Court of Appeal (Electronic Filing and Urgent Digital Virtual Hearings) (Special Provisions) Rules, 2021”.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the normal functioning of courts has been disrupted since 16 March 2020. This has also led to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recommending the use of virtual court proceedings to grant bail or extend remand time as measures to ensure the functioning of at least some aspects of the legal system.

Meanwhile, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) on Tuesday (8) suggested that even if the travel restrictions are extended beyond 14 June, the court proceedings should continue.

“In order to ensure the smooth functioning of courts, while ensuring strict adherence to health guidelines, the participation of all stakeholders in the justice sector, including the official and unofficial bars, are essential. For this purpose, the BASL requests the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to instruct all judicial officers to consult the respective Branch Associations of the BASL together with the health officials and the Police on the manner in which courts can function,” it said.

The BASL also requested that full use be made of virtual platforms as a means by which the Courts of Justice could be made functional beyond the present levels. For that purpose, the BASL requested the JSC to issue guidelines or rules, similar to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Rules in respect of digital hearings.