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Can Court hear case after one year?

Filed under: Special Comments |

By Dickson Jere

Industrial and labour disputes used to take forever in the High Court (Industrial and Labour Relations Division). So, in 2008, Parliament passed a law that provided for one-year period in which the Judge must hear and determine the matters once filed.

But then, what happens if the Judge fails to complete the case within one year?
This was the moot question that confronted the Supreme Court recently. The law does not say what should happen if the one-year period has lapsed without judgment.

Chief Justice Dr. Mumba Malila, SC led a panel of judges to dissect this legal conundrum in a groundbreaking decision delivered last week.

“It would be fallacious and unfair to adopt an unbending attitude that portrays any cause of delay as inconsequential, and that provided such delay exceeds one year It should result in termination of proceedings,” the Supreme Court opined, adding that the judge does not lose jurisdiction to complete the case.

The court observed that even though the law provided for the industrial and labour cases to be concluded within one-year, there are other factors that affect the deadline such as lack of human resource, diseases, shortages of court room, death and unavailability of witnesses.

“We may also add that one-year rule (for expeditious disposal of industrial and labour disputes) was not intended to lock out litigants who, through no fault of their own, could not have their cases determined within one year,” the Supreme Court stated.

The Chief Justice Malila and his panel reversed the position taken in the Court of Appeal, which had ruled that Judges lose jurisdiction after one year and that the case can only be resuscitated by transferring it to another High Court Judge to hear it afresh (de novo).

“Many complainants in industrial and labour disputes have not had their cases heard on account of the interpretation that beyond one-year, court lose jurisdiction,” the Supreme Court observed.

“Therefore, putting it plainly, the view we take is that the approach taken by the Court of Appeal defeats the very purpose for which the law was amended in 2008,” the panel noted, adding that the one-year timeline was aimed at speedy speedy justice.

The Court ended the 59-paged Judgement with a recommendation that Parliament must effect an amendment to the provision to clear the confusion. The judgement deals with section 85(3)(b)(ii) of the Industrial and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act No. 8 of 2008.

Case citation- Citibank Zambia Limited v Suhayl Dudhia (Appeal No. 6 of 2022).

Take note that this summary and commentary is not legal advice on the subject matter. Seek legal advice from your lawyer.


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