RENOVATION of the newly acquired Bristol House in Harare and its customisation into a state-of-the art Commercial Court is almost complete ahead of the official opening ceremony slated for May 1 this year.
The opening of the specialised paperless court is a milestone set to improve Zimbabwe’s investment climate through prompt resolution of commercial disputes.
Its legal framework is already in place and it will be the first paperless court in the history of Zimbabwe in line with international standards.
Setting up of the specialised court, a division of the High Court, is part of the rapid results framework being spearheaded by the Office of the President and Cabinet in partnership with the World Bank. It is meant to improve Zimbabwe’s Ease of Doing Business.
According to the World Bank recommendations, setting up of a specialised Commercial Court pushes Zimbabwe to a higher rank in terms of Ease of Doing Business and attracting direct foreign investment.
In an interview, Judicial Service Commission Secretary, Mr Walter Chikwana, said renovation of the recently purchased Bristol House along Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, is now 80 percent complete.
“The stand-alone Commercial Court will open on May 1 this year and the building is now under renovation.
“We have painted it, tiled it, and done the necessary work to spruce it up and customise it into a state-of the art courthouse.
“Judges’ chambers and the Registrar’s chambers have been worked on and are now complete.
“In terms of renovation, we are just polishing up and I can safely say, we are 80 percent through,” said Mr Chikwana.
“The court will be the first of its kind under the Integrated Electronic Case Management System. Training of the court staff is in progress and the legal framework is now in place. The new digital system is being tested ahead of the opening of the court on May 1.”
The same court will decentralise to Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare and Chinhoyi, where there are permanent High Court stations.
Mr Chikwana said the development will place Zimbabwe on a better position in terms of World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings.
“A country must have a stand-alone Commercial Court to effectively deal with the disputes and the court must digitalise. “When we have such a court, Zimbabwe garners more points and it moves to higher positions in terms of the international Ease of Doing Business rankings,” said Mr Chikwana.
In 2017, 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 facilitate the settlement of disputes.
The 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.
Already, the High Court has the following divisions: Electoral Court, The Fiscal Appeal Court, the Special Court for Income Tax Appeals, The Intellectual Property Tribunal and The Criminal, Civil and Family Law Divisions of the High Court.
The Commercial Court will be an additional division.