The Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) has released a seven-step guideline to halt the spread of COVID-19 and protect citizens and residents of Nigeria.
The development of the guidelines was supported by the Rule of Law and Anti Corruption (RoLAC ) project of the British Council and funded by the European Union.
PRAWA in a statement Wednesday by Deputy Director PRAWA, Ms. Ogechi Ogu, explained that the guidelines manual is developed to provide a simplified road map document to guide and aid the Court operators and court users towards compliance with the directives of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and other regulations that have been issued by competent federal and State authorities on COVID-19.
The Chief Justice of the Federation and Chairman National Judicial Council had issued two directives to this effect.
The first directive directed all Heads of Courts to suspend Court sittings for an initial period of two weeks from 24th March, 2020 while the second directive issued on 6th April, 2020 extended the suspension of court sittings until further notice and directed that Courts will sit to dispense with urgent, essential or time-bound matters in line with extant laws.
The Manual provides guidance to the courts on compliance with established health protocols from the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, and other designated Federal and State authorities in the course of attending to ‘urgent’, ‘essential’ and ‘time-bound’ cases in line with extant laws.
The guidelines contained in this Manual will also apply to situations arising from other contagious diseases that have similar patterns of infections, which require similar public health precautions.
According to the statement, the Manual is made up of Seven guidelines with different targets.
The summary guidelines according to the statement are;
“Step 1 is on scaling down operations of the court during the lockdown period and focuses on the determination of the cases that the court need to attend to and those to be rescheduled; making public the specific courts that will be open during the lockdown period and the criteria to be applied in the determination of the cases the court will attend to during the period; communication of all interested parties; what to do where the defendant is in prison custody and cannot be physically present in court and the need to avoid transporting defendants between Courts and Correctional Centres.
“Step 2 is on visits to the courts by the public during the lockdown period and focuses on restriction of access to court and Provision of information to the public that only persons with material interest in a case may be allowed into the court.
“Step 3 is on equipping the court to comply with the health protocols aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 with focus on equipment and personnel to aid in restricting physical access to the court to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring compliance with specified practical steps in line with the approved health protocols.
“Step 4 is on matters courts can attend to during the period of the lockdown with focus on criminal cases, civil cases and family law services.
“Step 5 is on application of technology during COVID-19 lockdown period with focus on the importance of understanding the benefits of the use of technology to attend to some of the court processes during the lockdown period and some of the court processes to apply technology during the lockdown period.
“Step 6 is on recommended sanctions for violators of COVID-19 regulations and laws focusing on types and the nature of sanctions recommended and principles and recommended mode of application of the sanctions.
“Step 7 is on court reminders to lawyers of their ethical obligations to their clients during COVID-19 lockdown with focus on the need to inform clients about the COVID-19 measures implemented by court and how these may impact their cases; the need to remind them of their duty of confidentiality to their client in line with rules of professional ethics; the need to remind them to familiarize themselves with and comply with COVID-19 safety measures in court premises and the need for the lawyers to support the application of technology in attending to pending cases before the courts”.
PRAWA called on the State Judiciary to adopt and also issue practice directions / regulations on these in their respective jurisdictions.