The Federal High Court has formally approved the use of virtual proceedings with effect from May 18.
The directive to this effect was contained in a new 2020 practice directions issued by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho for use in all cases in the divisions of the court.
“Virtual proceeding is hereby adopted for adjudication in the Federal High Court.
“Virtual proceedings can be either by Zoom, Skype or any other audio-visual platform approved by the court,” the chief judge said.
However, proceedings can only be held virtually with the consent of the parties and their counsel.
Under the new rules, federal high court judges cannot hear more than nine cases in a day even as its 82 judges across the 36 divisions of the court struggle to resolve over 200,200 pending cases.
Where parties and counsels agree to virtual proceedings in a case, he directed them to liaise with the court’s registrar to schedule the hearings.
Cases for virtual proceedings shall then be stated on the cause list, posted on the federal high court website and communicated to counsels and parties, either by e-mail or any other electronic means.
The judges and counsels in such proceedings must also be robed.
“Service of court processes may be effected by e-mails, WhatsApp or as may be directed by the court and shall be deemed as good service.
“Service of hearing notices may be effected by e-mail, WhatsApp, text messages or as may be directed by the court. The print out of same shall be sufficient proof of service,” it said.
The chief judge also made the wearing of face masks and maintaining of social distancing mandatory.
“Face masks must be properly worn by everyone within the court premises to cover their mouths and noses at all times.
“Every person within the premises of the court and inside the court room shall observe the requirement of social and physical distancing of not less than two meters (six feet) apart from each other.
“At any given time, there shall not be a congregation of more than 10 within the court premises, except for purposes of court sittings.
“There shall not be more than 20 persons inside the court room including the court staff and counsel at court sittings,” the new practice directive stated.