Monday, 16 June 2014

E-Justice - Changes proposed to laws on High Courts in Namibia

(First appeared in Consumer News Namibia Magazine October 2013)

Proposed amendments to the High Court Act that have been tabled in the National Assembly should pave the way for the introduction of a new electronic documents filing system in the High Court. The High Court Amendment Bill, which was motivated by the Minister of Justice, Utoni Nujoma, contains several proposed changes to the High Court Act of 1990 that would also give the Judge President of the High Court wider powers to make rules that would determine the way the court functions.

The main change highlighted in Parliament was that the provisions tabled would enable the Judge President to make rules that require legal documents to be filed with the court. The object of introducing the electronic court filing system, commonly referred to as e-justice, is to eliminate as far as possible the filing of court documents in hard copy. With the introduction of e-justice the aim is to achieve the quick and fair disposal of cases, which would in turn result in a reduction in litigation costs to the consumers / citizens in the country.

Immovable Property rules for unpaid debts

The judge president will (under the new law) be given the power to make court rules that would regulate the selling of immovable property of people being sued over unpaid debts where the property is the primary home of the debtor. Thus under the new rules, it would give the High Court the power to transfer the responsibility of collecting unpaid debts to a Magistrate’s Court.

By transferring the responsibility of collecting debts in execution of a judgement given against a debtor to a Magistrate’s Court, judges’ increasing workload would be eased and judgement debtors would no longer have to travel long distances to attend financial enquiry sessions in the High Court, as these would instead be held closer to debtors in district courts.

The High Court Amendment Bill also states that the judge president may make a rule to regulate the selling of immovable property where the property is the primary home of the person against whom a judgement has been granted. It is proposed that the judge president may prescribe that a reserve price should be set for the sale of such a property, and that the property may not be sold to the highest bidder at a price lower than the prescribed reserve price.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Another of the change in rules would allow new compulsory alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that would have to be followed in certain cases before the court.
The aim with the compulsory alternative dispute resolution mechanism (ADRM) that is to be introduced in some cases is to enable the parties involved in a dispute to avoid having to go through expensive trial proceedings in court. In countries where alternative dispute resolution mechanisms have been adopted it has been shown that disputes can be resolved quicker and less costly than through litigation and court proceedings.

In the bill it is proposed that judges should be given the power to order parties to a dispute to refer their dispute for alternative dispute resolution, and that a case may thereafter be taken to court for a hearing only if an alternative dispute resolution process has not succeeded.

Milton Louw is a writer and social activist. He is presently the IT Project Coordinator at the Electoral Commission of Namibia. All opinions expressed in this article are his own.

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