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Tanzania: New move to hasten commercial cases


Tanzania is seeking to increase the jurisdiction of lower courts to handle commercial disputes as a measure to reduce the backlog of cases at the Commercial Division of the High Court.

Resident magistrates’ courts will be allowed to handle commercial cases with up to Shs. 100 million in value involved, up from Shs. 50 million capped by the current law. The maximum threshold for the district magistrates’ courts will also more than double from the Shs. 30 million currently to Shs. 70 million. The changes are part of the proposals in the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (N0.4) Bill 2019 which was tabled in Parliament for first reading in June this year. The bill seeks to amend section 40(3) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act which is the principal legislation, among other acts. The bill is among the proposed laws which will be deliberated in the Parliament’s committee sessions which kicked off in Dodoma yesterday.  “The amendment aims at reducing backlog of cases that can be tried in the High Court Commercial Division,” states the proposed law in its objectives and reasons for the amendment. The bill seeks to amend seven laws including the Criminal Procedure Act by introducing plea bargaining – the system that will allow the prosecutor and the accused to negotiate in a criminal case whereby the accused will agree to plead guilty to a particular charge for some concessions.

The introduction of the plea bargaining system into Tanzania is also aimed at reducing case backlogs, prison congestions and ensure timely delivery of justice, according to the bill. The bill also intends to amend the National Prosecutions Service Act by decentralizing the powers of the director of public prosecutions to his subordinates. The proposed amendment states that the DPP may specify offences or set threshold of value involved in a case in which his subordinates may provide consent for prosecution on his behalf. This is applicable in cases which require the consent of the DPP before they are commenced in courts of law. Files of such cases are currently sent to the headquarters of the National Prosecutions Services for approvals but once the proposed changes are passed by the Parliament, it will be done in the respective regions. “This will speed the process of obtaining consent,” states the bill. The amendment also intends to give the DPP powers to compound offences and ask authorized officers to submit reports on the same.

The Commercial Division of the High Court of Tanzania has jurisdiction in commercial cases in which the value of the claim is at least Shs.100 million in case of proceedings for recovery of possession of immovable property and at least Shs. 70 million in proceedings where the subject matter is capable of being estimated at a money value. It was established to provide a positive climate for investments and install confidence within the business community in the country’s judicial system. The Commercial Court is intended to resolve disputes of a commercial nature. However, the court has no exclusive mandatory jurisdiction to hear and determine commercial dispute as a potential commercial litigant has the option of instituting a commercial case either in the Ordinary Registry of the High Court or in the Commercial Division of the High Court.

Source: The Citizen Newspaper (20/08/2019) - by Sharon Sauwa and Alawi Masare.

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