ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly has unanimously cleared a bill seeking endorsement for an alternative dispute resolution which detractors fear would legalise the much-criticised jirga and panchayat system in the country.
Through the Alternative Dispute Resolution Bill, 2016, a new approach has been proposed to make the current legal system responsive to the present-day requirements of society.
Proponents argue that throughout the world alternative dispute resolution has been considered as a time-efficient, cost-effective and strictly confidential way of resolving disputes amicably. However, some women legislators fear the bill in its current form does not provide women adequate protection and have called for it to be modified.
The bill will initially be applicable only in the federal capital. “If it is found to be successful, we will extend it to all the provinces,” said Law Minister Zahid Hamid, who moved the bill.
The bill will cover 23 types of cases, namely disputes between landlord and tenant, preemption cases, land and property disputes, civil matters under the Small Claims and Minor Offences Courts Ordinance, commercial disputes, contractual cases, professional negligence disputes, family disputes, suits for specific performance, company and banking matters, insurance cases, negotiable instruments, personal injury cases, damages suits, patent or copyright cases, disputes under the Canal and Drainage Law, dispute for recovery of movable property, dispute for separate possession of joint immovable property, dispute for redemption of mortgaged property, dispute for rendition of accounts of joint property, dispute to restrain waste and remove nuisance, disputes over mesne profits of property and any other case which the parties involved agree to settle through alternative resolution facilities.
“There is huge backlog of cases in both subordinate and superior courts of the country and it is necessary to find simpler and faster alternatives which can supplement the traditional legal system,” states the statement of objects and reasons of the bill.
“The government, after consultation with the high court, shall notify in the official gazette a panel of neutrals for each district from amongst lawyers, retired judges of superior and subordinate judiciary, retired civil servants, social workers, ulema, jurists, technocrats and experts and such other person of repute and integrity having such qualifications and experiences as may be prescribed,” reads the text of the bill.
A matter would be referred for alternative resolution after having consent in writing from both parties in the dispute. If the efforts of the neutral mediator fail to bring about a settlement, the mediator will submit a report to the court which shall proceed with the case.
Taking part in the debate over the bill, Pakistan Peoples Party MNA Nafeesa Shah said women had always been exploited through jirgas and the panchayat system. She pointed out that they seldom had any representation in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in the past.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MNA Dr Shireen Mazari, meanwhile, called for the bill to be revised as it would not protect women in its present form. She asked for the inclusion of a specific section for women’s protection in the bill.
Some of the amendments proposed by the opposition were then incorporated in the bill.
Meanwhile, PTI’s Shafqat Mahmood acknowledged the benefits of an alternative resolution system but voiced concern that it could be politicised. “To avoid this, high courts must ensure neutral persons are appointed [as mediators],” he said.
The superior judiciary has long called for setting up an alternative dispute resolution mechanism to supplement the services of courts.
In his farewell speech last December, Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali said “one of the solutions to this problem in civil litigation, used by other countries is to resort to alternative dispute resolution.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2017.
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