Law firms in South Africa were quick off the mark to establish internal Covid-19 protocols and in ensuring clients have speedy access to what will be crucial legal advice in how to deal with the fallout of the virus. Tania Broughton reports.
A quick round up of some law firms indicate they were ready and waiting when President Cyril Ramaphosa declared late Sunday that the country was now in a “State of national disaster” as the figure of those infected with the virus continues to rise daily.
Angela Clark, head of Business Development (South Africa) at Eversheds Sutherland, said the firm had taken the outbreak “very seriously” and had anticipated the legal impact from the outset.
“Everyone is looking to ensure they are well-prepared to deal with the legal repercussions of the outbreak on their business. We have therefore created an online hub to centralise our legal briefings to clients.
The hub, which can be accessed here, will be updated regularly, she said.
And should any client require immediate legal support, a central coordinating team would identify the right lawyers in the company’s global officers to help them.
“Our law firm is one of the largest in the world in terms of geographic footprint and we hope that this footprint and legal know-how will support businesses through this challenging time.”
Webber Wentzel, in collaboration with its alliance partner Linklaters, has prepared a guide, offering tips and highlights of some of the main legal and risk issues.
“This is, above all, a human and social crisis necessitating some significant changes in the way we go about our daily lives. As efforts are underway to manage the spread as it radiates across the world, the impact to businesses and economies has become increasingly significant,” the company said.
“We will continue to evaluate and assess how to address the threat posed by Covid-19 to our businesses. We will apply key learnings from other jurisdictions that are further ahead in the life-cycle of this market development.”
It spelled out measures taken to keep people - clients and employees - well and safe.
These include the establishment of a task team, which includes senior management to monitor all developments in consultation with a general practitioner.
“Our client teams are equipped with technology to work from home or remotely if needed. Staff have been advised to stay at home if they experience any symptoms related to the virus.
“Work related travel outside of South Africa is now prohibited. As an alternative, we have urged staff to make use of virtual meeting technologies as much as possible,” the company said in a communique to clients.
“Emergency plans have been put in place to be able to isolate anyone at the workplace suspected of having the virus to minimise contact with others.”
Things are taking longer to put in place in the country’s courts which draw hundreds of people every day and where sanitary conditions are often poor.
Chrispin Piri, spokesperson for Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, told Africa Legal that a plan of action was to be discussed with the judiciary on Tuesday.
He said he would only be able to give details after that.
Court officials said it was “business as usual”.
“We haven’t been told anything. Some people are very worried.”
According to media reports from Kenya, the judiciary there is scaling down on its activities.
At the weekend, Chief Justice David Maraga said this would be done for the next two weeks pending further consultation.
It would involve prisoners not being brought to court and people arrested for less serious crimes being dealt with at police stations. All appeal, criminal and civil cases in all courts have also been suspended.
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