The covid-19 bill; relief measures for contractual parties, litigants and legal professionals

The ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19)’ Bill, Sri Lanka

The Minister of Justice on 8th June 2021 presented the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Temporary Provisions) Bill.

The emergence of the new COVID-19 virus variant and the surge in the spread of the virus over the past few months has resulted in cyclical lockdown/curfew and/or travel restrictions being imposed in Sri Lanka. This has placed contractual parties and litigants in a state of turmoil, more particularly in relation to the adherence of timelines and times bars.

The COVID-19 Bill (‘The Bill’) will be applicable in a ’Covid-19 circumstance”, which basically means any event that arises out of or is consequential to the Covid-19 virus (which has been declared a quarantinable disease).

Briefly, the COVID-19 Bill seeks to provide the following ‘temporary’ relief measures for contractual parties, litigants and legal professionals:

  • If the time periods prescribed by law are not complied with on account of a Covid-19 circumstance, inter alia instituting of an action, filing of appeals and performing any time sensitive act, a further prescribed time period will be permitted.

    The new time period within which such matters should be dealt with will be calculated by, excluding the period falling within a Covid-19 circumstance from the prescribed time period. It should be noted that, the excluded time period cannot exceed a period of 12 months unless it is declared by a Court of law to be just and equitable. However the overall excluded time period cannot exceed a period of 18 months.

  • In the event Courts are affected by a Covid-19 circumstance, the Judicial Service Commission (subject to sections 46 and 47 of the Judicature Act No.2 of 1978) will be empowered to designate alternate courts.

  • If a Covid-19 circumstance has prevented a person from appearing in Court or if Court proceedings are disrupted, unless it conflicts with any other laws, conducting of Court proceedings via remote communication technology such as live video will be permitted.

  • If party to a ‘scheduled contract’ is unable to perform any obligations and/or exercise any rights under such a contract, an application may be made to a Court, tribunal or other authority established and empowered by law to hear and determine matter concerning the scheduled contract. (The First Schedule of the Bill provides a non-exhaustive list on what is considered as a ‘scheduled contract’).

On being passed by Parliament, this law will come into force from 1st March 2021 and will be operative for a period of 2 years.

This is only an overview of the applicable law and should not be relied upon as legal advice or recommendation by D. L. & F. De Saram, a leading law firm in Sri Lanka.

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