MASERU — Justice Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane, who heads the commercial division of the High Court, on Friday said the filing of cases in the commercial court had increased in tandem with their disposal. Judge Makhooane said the statistics from 2010 to 2013 indicate that in 2010 there were 118 cases filed in the commercial division and 52 were completed. In 2011, of the 239 cases filed, 200 were completed. In 2012, there were 280 cases filed and 107 cases were completed.
In 2013, 214 cases had been filed and 175 have been completed so far. “We hope that it is because the business sector and the commercial lawyers have gained confidence in the court,” she said. According to the High Court Mediation Rules 2011, every newly filed case, whether civil or commercial, should go through the mediation process.
This is a method of resolving disputes with the assistance of a neutral third party in a quick and efficient. Makhooane said in future they hope to have a third commercial judge with full staff as there are three chambers already. She hoped that the court premises would be extended to accommodate a third courtroom. In his presentation Advocate Thabo Mpaka said it is surprising that a commercial court which is supposed to be a specialised court does not have its own practice manual.
The problem, he said also obtains at the High Court. The practice manual is important for the orderly functioning of the court. “It streamlines the procedure and the timetable of the court and if adhered to effectively deals with the dreaded backlash of backlog of cases in the courts,” he said. Mpaka recommended that appointment to the bench should be transparent, starting with the composition of the Judicial Service Commission and its procedures.
He said, competency should be the main but not the only criteria adding that the Law Society should be engaged vigorously in the drive to train lawyers before practising and admission. Mpaka said that the proposed law society rules was a step in the right direction as it provided for compulsory pupilage, but it seems to be gathering dust. “Without training the legal practice cannot be uniform. We should recall that ours is a noble profession and we should conduct ourselves accordingly both in our professional and private life,” he said.
Justice Makhooane said the court was established as far back as 2003. However, due to general complaints from legal practitioners that its rules were cumbersome, very few cases were filed as commercial matters. “This resulted in failure to utilise the commercial division fully,” the judge said. The judge said in 2009 it became clear that the commercial division was experiencing a backlog of cases due to the absence of clear rules of procedures.
According to the judge this also hampered private sector growth and economic progress because this situation was impacting negatively on the investor confidence. Justice Makhooane said that in the Commercial Court cases are handled faster and in a business sensitive manner.
According to the Commercial Court rules, the court will deal with any claim arising out of the transactions of trade and commerce and any claim relating to business documents and contracts. The court will also deal with matters which include banking and financial services and the purchase and sale of commodities.
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