By: Francisca Serwaa Boateng, Esq.
The rules that guide the conduct of civil cases at the various courts have been amended. The changes were made in various regards by the Rules of Court Committee that is mandated by the Constitution to make such periodic changes in the rules. The latest changes that have been made relate to the civil procedure rules for High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The High Court Rules
Four major changes have been made in the High Court Rules (C.I 47).
- Application for directions
New changes have been introduced in the procedure as follows:
A party who is applying for directions may put in a request for the proceedings to be halted for the parties to try and settle the case through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or other means. At the hearing of the application for directions, the judge should also ask the parties if they are willing to settle through ADR or other means. If the parties agree to settle by ADR (notably mediation), then the judge will give the parties one month within which to do so. The judge may extend the period if the parties show that they need more time to settle. If the parties are able to settle the case, the parties will sign the terms of settlement and the judge will enter it as the Court’s judgment. However, if the parties are unable to settle by mediation, then the judge will hear the application for directions and the case will go for trial.
The rules relating to applications for review of a High Court’s judgment or order has been revoked. Therefore, a party can no longer apply for a review of a decision given by a High Court. This decision by the Committee is not surprising because the provisions for review at the High Court have largely fallen into disuse.
- Appeals from District Courts
New changes have been introduced to the effect that, an application for stay of execution of a judgment of a District/magistrate Court pending an appeal to the High Court must be made to the High Court by motion on notice. Therefore, applications for such stay should not be made at the District Court any more, whether orally or by notice.
- Commercial Court Rules
The name has been changed from Commercial Court Rules to “Commercial Actions”. Also, two additional claims have been added to the list of claims to be handled as ‘commercial claims’. These are a) an investment-related land case which involves the State, and b) a construction and project management dispute involving the State or an agency of the State. Additionally, the rules now apply to Commercial Courts (the Commercial Division of the High Court) as already known, as well as commercial claims before any other High Court or a Circuit Court. The rules are, therefore, no longer the special preserve of the Commercial Courts only.
With the new changes introduced, the rules now place an obligation on both the courts and the parties to seek an early settlement of commercial actions. The use of ADR in the settlement of commercial actions has been amplified in the new rules. Parties now have the option to choose court-assisted mediation or arbitration or even an external person to help settle the dispute. The judge will give the parties 30 days to try settlement and the time may be extended for another 14 days. If the parties are able to settle the case, the parties will sign the terms of settlement and the judge will enter it as the Court’s judgment. However, if the parties are unable to settle, then the judge will order the case to go for trial.
It is unclear why the Rules of Court Committee did not add that parties are at liberty to file applications for summary judgment or judgment on admissions after the pre-trial settlement conference period where, for example, a party refuses to attend the pre-trial conference or fails to settle. This is a grievous omission on the part of the Committee and it ought to be rectified. As the rules stand now, if after filing a reply a party elects not to take part in the pre-trial conference, the case must necessarily go through a trial even if it is one for which the party could apply for summary judgment or judgment on admissions. This flies in the face of the need for expeditious trial of commercial actions.
Order 32 on Application for Directions – amended
Order 42 on Review – revoked
Order 51 on Appeals from District Courts – amended
Order 58 on Commercial Court Rules – amended in its entirety.
- For further reading, See: High Court (Civil Procedure) ( Amendment) Rules, 2020 ( C.I 133)