Covid-19 hits Legal Aid SA, but service to public continues
The Covid-19 pandemic has not left the Legal Aid Board SA, which provides legal assistance to the indigent, unscathed.
The provider of legal services to more than 700,000 people a year has recorded 72 Covid-19 cases, 49 recoveries and two deaths.
The pandemic has seen 39 closures at 22 offices since Legal Aid SA reopened when lockdown restrictions were eased on May 6.
Gone are the days when people who need assistance from Legal Aid SA would visit its 64 offices and 64 satellite offices to get advice or seek legal representation. Members of the public are now encouraged to use the toll-free Legal Aid Advice Line 0800 110 110 for advice on whether an application for legal aid was permitted, and only then would an office-based consultation take place.
"Those with confirmed appointments will be expected to wear a mask and follow social distancing prescripts and other regulations when they visit Legal Aid SA offices," said spokesperson Mfanafuthi Shabangu.
Shabangu said the organisation has put in place a number of measures - apart from providing sanitisers to employees and clients and masks to staff - to protect employees and clients, including a revised work plan to minimise employees’ exposure to Covid-19.
Shabangu said legal staff attended to their court work as per the approved staff deployment, and were limited to being at Legal Aid SA offices only for administration requirements and collection of files in an allocated week.
He said civil legal practitioners attended the office in their allocated week for any appointments arranged for urgent matters, and administration staff were required at the office on three days in their assigned week.
Shabangu said to minimise the number of clients in waiting areas, those with urgent matters were consulted on an appointment basis.
"Boardrooms and revised open-plan working spaces are used to create additional space with the requisite social distance," Shabangu said.
He said the Legal Aid SA Employee Assistance Programme had LifeLine on standby from 9am to 9pm to assist employees who were stressed or anxious.
Shabangu said all non-essential travel for attending meetings, training, preparedness audits and hosting international delegations were suspended and now conducted virtually.