Law to speed up dispute resolution

Source: Law to speed up dispute resolution | The Herald June 26, 2017

Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
Government has passed a new law to speed up the resolution of disputes, particularly those of a commercial nature.

In a notice last Friday, Government gazetted the Judicial Laws Amendment (Ease of Settling Commercial and Other Disputes) Act, which altered sections of the High Court Act, the Magistrates Court Act and the Small Claims Court Act to speed up and to facilitate the settlement of disputes.

The new Act provides for an Intellectual Property Tribunal, constituted in terms of the Intellectual Property Tribunal Act, to be declared a specialised division of the High Court.

It provides for hearings in court or in chambers to be conveyed through electronic devices or other means of communication subject to agreement between the parties, if a party to the dispute cannot be physically present.

This is adverted to in the Act as “virtual sittings”. Provision is also made for the electronic authentication of court documents and electronic access to records filed with the courts.

The law brings legal proceedings in the country up to speed with the realities of the digital era and facilitates the settlement of matters in a rapid and effective manner.

In terms of the Act, magistrates’ courts are now in certain considerations given original jurisdiction over commercial disputes even if the value of such disputes would otherwise exceed their monetary authority.

The Act provides that parties to a suit regarding a commercial dispute must, in the first instance, have their case heard by a magistrates’ court in that province, if both of the parties reside, conduct business or are employed in the same province, unless the parties opt to have the dispute determined by the High Court.

Previously, the magistrates’ courts did not have jurisdiction to award specific performance without the option of damages or to grant provisional sentence in claims for liquidated debts.

The Act now gives such jurisdiction to magistrates’ courts in claims of a business character.

The Small Claims Court Act was enacted in 1992 to expedite the adjudication of small civil claims at minimal cost to the parties involved.