‘ Vir­tual court sit­tings’ on cards

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News - Mashudu Net­sianda

THE Govern­ment has gazetted the Ju­di­cial Laws Amend­ment (ease of settling com­mer­cial and other dis­putes) Bill that is meant to es­tab­lish spe­cialised di­vi­sions of the courts to elec­tron­i­cally ex­pe­dite jus­tice de­liv­ery and pro­mote the ease of ac­cess to jus­tice.

In terms of the Bill, there is a clause which seeks to amend cer­tain sec­tions of the High Court Act, Mag­is­trates’ Courts Act and the Small Claims Courts to en­able pro­vi­sion to be made by rules of court for “vir­tual sit­tings” at which all or any of the par­ties to a civil suit may, by mu­tual agree­ment, par­tic­i­pate in sit­tings of the court by elec­tronic means.

“The pur­pose of this Bill is to amend the High Court Act [Chap­ter 7:06], the Mag­is­trates’ Courts Act [Chap­ter7:10] and the Small Claims Courts Act [Chap­ter 7:12]; with a view to speed­ing up and other­wise fa­cil­i­tat­ing the set­tle­ment of cer­tain suits or ac­tions, es­pe­cially suits or ac­tions of a com­mer­cial na­ture,” reads part of the Bill.

The spe­cialised courts will en­able rules to be made for such mat­ters as the elec­tronic ser­vice of process, the elec­tronic au­then­ti­ca­tion of court doc­u­ments, and elec­tronic ac­cess to records filed with the Reg­is­trar of the High Court or clerk of court.

The Bill pro­vides that the par­ties con­cerned must con­sent to their pro­ceed­ings be­ing con­ducted by way of a vir­tual sit­ting.

The rules of court for vir­tual sit­tings ap­ply only to civil pro­ceed­ings and not to crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings, ex­cept in such cir­cum­stances and sub­ject to such con­di­tions as may be spec­i­fied by or un­der the Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­dure and Ev­i­dence Act. By means of this amend­ment to the ju­ris­dic­tion sec­tion of the Mag­is­trates’ Court Act, mag­is­trate’s courts are in cer­tain cir­cum­stances given orig­i­nal ju­ris­dic­tion over com­mer­cial dis­putes even if the value of such dis­putes would other­wise ex­ceed their mon­e­tary ju­ris­dic­tion.

The amend­ment pro­vides that par­ties to a suit in­volv­ing a com­mer­cial dis­pute must, in the first in­stance, have their suit de­ter­mined by a mag­is­trate’s 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.

Presently, the mag­is­trates’ courts have no ju­ris­dic­tion to award spe­cific per­for­mance with­out the op­tion of dam­ages or to grant pro­vi­sional sen­tence in claims for liq­ui­dated debts.

There is a clause that seeks to give such ju­ris­dic­tion to mag­is­trate’s courts in claims of a busi­ness char­ac­ter.

The ef­fect of the Bill amend­ing the Small Claims Court Act is that all mag­is­trates’ courts will be­come small claims courts within their area of ju­ris­dic­tion.

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

The 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 de­ceased and in­sol­vent es­tates or any other spe­cialised field of law. — @mash­nets

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