The Punjab government plans to set up special commercial courts across the province to help expedite hearings and decisions in such cases. The courts have already been notified in five districts, with more expected to come soon. Various courts have already begun transferring related cases to these courts, which are mandated to decide cases within 180 days. E-filing and restrictions on adjournments are among the many features of the new courts set up through the promulgation of the Punjab Commercial Courts Ordinance. That would be a welcome change from the way many commercial cases linger on in the regular court system, where it can take years for decisions to come.
The new ordinance was reportedly drafted after getting input from the World Bank and the Lahore High Court to improve 'ease of doing business', an area where Pakistan continues to have several problems.
The ordinance includes support for alternative dispute resolution, which allows for certain types of cases to be decided outside of the formal legal system if both parties agree, thus helping avoid clogging up the courts while ensuring quick justice. This is also expected to have a knock-on effect on foreign investment in Pakistan which is placed at 156 among the 190 countries in the World Bank's ranking of contract enforcement. Why would anyone risk investing in a 'lawless' country? Indeed, a glance at the rankings shows that almost all of the top-ranked countries are considered 'developed' or are almost there. It is no surprise that Rwanda, which comes in at 32 — ahead of the UK — is the highest-ranked developing country, given that it is considered one of the best-managed and high-potential economies in the world.
While some aspects of the new ordinance could certainly use polishing, such as the lack of specifics on how decisions regarding the award of court costs would be taken, the law, in general, is a welcome initiative. Apart from the investment potential that could be realised through legal reforms, millions of Pakistani businesses and individuals will also benefit from more efficient courts.
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