Fighting a Court Battle in the Midst of an Outbreak?March 24, 2020
Amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many courts and tribunals globally have suspended operations to halt the COVID-19 spread, with trials, hearings, and court mentions being postponed and rescheduled.
Subsequent to the Ministry of Health of the Union of Myanmar announcing the first confirmed COVID-19 cases, the Supreme Court of the Union, on 24 and 25 March 2020, announced through its official Facebook page that due to unprecedented circumstances, cases scheduled in all regional and state courts will be suspended until further announcement. That said, on 30 March 2020, the Supreme Court of the Union revoked all the announcements made regarding the suspension of the cases and further announced that all trials, hearings, and mentions will be held as scheduled.
As such, practical difficulties are arising where disputants or witnesses from abroad are unable to attend court physically due to the travel restrictions and lockdown measures undertaken by various countries affected by COVID-19. This leads to court adjournments being inevitable.
In Myanmar, the granting of an adjournment is a matter which is generally within the discretion of the court. As per Myanmar Court Manual 2001, a court date fixed for a hearing should be strictly adhered to and no adjournment should be granted except for a “good reason.” In essence, a party has no right to an adjournment merely to suit his/her own convenience. Furthermore, if a party fails to attend on the scheduled date, the court will have the right to set aside the case.
Hence, the question can now be asked regarding whether the novel COVID-19 outbreak can be considered a “good reason” for an adjournment request? The answer to this question remains uncertain. There is no absolute rule on the subject, as there is no yardstick in defining a “good reason” due to it being considered on a case-by-case basis. It might depend on whether the home country of a party has formally forbidden travel, or whether Myanmar has forbidden entry, or whether the party merely prefers not to travel while it is legally still possible.
While the Myanmar court has acknowledged the predicament caused by the pandemic, it is still, nevertheless, taking a passive approach in exercising its discretion in granting adjournment requests to those that are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Lastly, as the situation is constantly changing, it should be noted that further updates may be announced by the Supreme Court of the Union.