Video conferencing for courts

Source: Video conferencing for courts | The Sunday Mail August 28, 2016

Levi Mukarati Deputy News Editor—
The judiciary system is set for reformation through specialised extensions of the High Court with some business previously confined to the civil courts qualifying to be heard by superior judicial offices via telephone and video conferencing. This is contained in the Judicial Laws Amendment (Ease of Settling Commercial and other Disputes), now before Parliament.

The Bill seeks to amend sections of the High Court Act, Magistrates’ Court Act and Small Claims Court Act. It will expedite justice delivery and promote access to justice. Amendments to the High Court Act will result in the establishment of specialised divisions of the High Court such as the Electoral Court which will directly deal with electoral disputes in various parts of the country when such cases arise.

Other specialised divisions will include the Fiscal Appeal Court and the Intellectual Property Tribunal. The rules of court applicable to the High Court shall apply to all divisional courts.

The High Court and Magistrates’ Court will now preside over civil cases of a business nature.

According to a Government Gazette published last Friday, the Chief Justice, after consultation with the Judge President, can now cause the creation of “a specialised division of the High Court in accordance with section 171 (3) of the Constitution (of Zimbabwe) by notice in the (Government) gazette.”

The Chief Justice shall “specify the name of the division of the High Court concerned; and define or give a statement of the scope or nature of the division’s subject matter jurisdiction, and if necessary or expedient, specify the places and times at which the division shall sit.

“Specialised divisions of the High Court may be created to specialise in the adjudication of cases in the field of commercial law, family law, mining law, electoral law, revenue law, the law of the deceased and insolvent estates or any other specialised field of law.

“The Judge President shall assign at least two judges of the High Court to be judges of a specialised division of the High Court for such a period as the Judge President shall specify.”

According to the gazette, the sitting of the High Court as provided in the High Court Act section 47 can be conducted by the use of any electronic or other means of communication by which all parties to the proceedings can hear or be heard at the same time.

“. . . parties concerned must consent to their proceedings being conducted by way of a virtual sitting, read part of the Government gazette.

“Rules of court for virtual sittings apply only to civil proceedings and not criminal proceedings, except in such circumstances and subject to such conditions as may be specified by or under the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (Chapter 9:07).”

The virtual sitting will enable court proceedings to take place, especially in cases where parties involved are outside the country, in hospital or have failed to attend courts due to other commitments.

The Bill proposes amendments to the Magistrates’ Court Act by extending the Magistrates’ Court mandate to preside over disputes of a civil nature arising out of a business transaction.

It also provides for virtual sitting for the Magistrates’ Court in the civil cases.