Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
Government has increased the monetary jurisdiction of the magistrates’ civil court from $300 000 to $3 million in a move set to promote access to justice and to ease pressure on superior courts.
The move is expected to ensure expeditious and quality justice considering that more cases will be spread among many judicial officers in the lower courts.
The limit has been increased through Statutory Instrument 227 of 2020.
The Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry made the rules in terms of section 73 of the Magistrates Court Act (Chapter 7:10)- Magistrates Court (Civil Jurisdiction) (Monetary Limits) Rules, 2020.
The new law opened up the judiciary to the ordinary Zimbabwean who could not afford to approach the High Court for various reasons.
Magistrates’ courts are found even in the rural areas, while the High Court is based only in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza said the increase in monetary jurisdiction will improve access to justice.
She said magistrates are easier to approach than superior courts.
“The development also reduces the backlog in the High Court, which has fewer judges. More cases will now go to the magistrates’ court where there are more judicial officers,” said Mrs Mabhiza.
“Yes, we increased the jurisdiction because the values were now too low and all the cases would end up at the High Court. So, in order to have magistrates dealing with most cases we had to increase the monetary jurisdiction.”
Gweru based lawyer and law lecturer at the Midlands State University Mr Esau Mandipa of Mutatu and Mandipa Legal Practice said the development was welcome as it would decongest the High Court.
He said what it means is that the bulk of the civil cases will now be handled by the magistrate’s court.
“The increase in civil court monetary jurisdiction is very welcome. Unlike the High Court which is only in four cities (Masvingo, Bulawayo, Mutare and Harare), this means justice will be near the litigants all over Zimbabwe for the civil matters which fall within the new monetary jurisdiction. It will also be relatively cheaper for the litigants because litigation before the High Court is expensive especially when one is legally represented in comparison to litigation before the magistrates court,” said Mr Mandipa.
“Personally, as a lawyer practising in a city (Gweru) where there is no High Court, I welcome the move since it will reduce our need to travel for the High Court at least for matters involving Z$3 million and below. This also saves time in that most of the civil claims we normally handle will be dealt with by the magistrates,” said Mr Mandipa.
Another lawyer, Mrs Takashinga Pamacheche-Mubonesi of Gundu, Dube and Pamacheche Legal Practitioners commended the Government for the increase in jurisdiction saying it is good as far as access to justice is concerned.
She said the cost of litigation being lower in the lower courts than in superior courts means lower courts can now entertain more matters than before as more litigants can now easily access the lower courts for cases that would have ordinarily been heard in the High Court.
“We however need to guard against an unprecedented flood of cases in the magistrate’s courts. The Small Claims Courts jurisdiction may also need to be revised,” said Mrs Pamacheche-Mubonesi.