A lawyer with face mask: New norm in Nigerian courts. Photo credit: Opera News

By Sandra Umeh

The National Judicial Council (NJC) has made wearing of face masks compulsory in all the courts, to reduce the spread of Coronavirus.

This was part of the guidelines for court sittings issued by the NJC Committee headed by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour.

It is entitled: “The National Judicial Council Guidelines for Court Sittings and Related Matters in the COVID-19 period”.

NJC Director of information, Mr Soji Oye, said the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice I. T. Muhammad, in a corresponding circular with Reference Number NJC/CIR/HOC/II/660, urged all heads of federal and state courts to abide by the guidelines in the formulation of their rules and directives.

“Heads of court shall have primary responsibility of ensuring compliance of judicial officers, over whom they superintend, with the provisions of this guidelines.

“Heads of courts shall liaise with relevant security agencies to ensure that entrances to court premises are well manned by security personnel and entry into the premises are regulated in a manner that guarantees and enforces the minimum two-meter (six feet) distance between persons as it relates to all entrants into the premises.

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“The courts shall ensure that all security personnel who work in the court premises and in particular the security personnel who man the entrance(s) to the court premises are well informed on COVID-19 including in particular, the methods of its spread, its basic symptoms, how to prevent its spread, etc,” it said.

Heads of courts should ensure that all security personnel including those attached to judicial officers and courtrooms would be well-kitted and supplied with disposable gloves, face masks and hand sanitisers.

“Security personnel at the entrance of the court premises shall be equipped with temperature monitors for testing and determining the temperature of each visitor to the court premises.

” They should be trained in the use of the temperature monitors, and visitors must be shown their temperature readings on the monitors before their admission into the court premises.

“Every person wishing to go into the court premises, without exception, shall be subjected to the temperature monitor reading for the determination of his or her body temperature,” it said.

It added that anyone who refuses to submit himself or herself for the reading of temperature should be politely refused entry into the court premises and advised to leave the entrance immediately.

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“Heads of courts should procure advice of health experts on the temperature levels that warrant concern and be indicative of a person with fever (‘high temperature threshold).

“The security personnel at the court entrance(s) must be trained in that regard.

“Any visitor to the court premises, who has a high temperature, based on the temperature monitor reading at the entrance to the court or who is coughing while going through the entry protocols, should be politely advised to seek immediate medical assistance and refused entry into the court premises.

“Security personnel at the court premises shall further ensure that only persons with face masks are allowed entry into the court premises, without exception.”

It said that judicial officers and legal counsel must be exemplary in that regard and must ensure that their support personnel would comply strictly with the requirement.

“At no time and in no circumstance should anyone, while within the court premises, including inside courtrooms, offices and the chambers of judicial officers, not wear a face mask.

“Anyone who refuses, neglects or is unwilling to wear face mask at any time while in the court premises should be politely advised to leave and be escorted outside the premises by security personnel.

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“Face masks must be properly worn by everyone within the court premises to cover their mouths and noses at all times.

“With regard to the court premises itself, as much as possible, heads of courts must ensure that toilet facilities in the court premises are functional and have constant running water, soap and tissue papers.”

It said that the toilets must be kept clean at all times.

It added that visitors to the court premises must maintain social and physical distance and avoid congregations or assembly of more than 10 persons within the court premises, excluding courtrooms.

It said that court-related businesses that could be transacted without physical visits to the court premises should be transacted through available alternative channels.