ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law approved a government bill on Wednesday for out-of-court settlements, through arbitrators appointed by trial courts with the consent of parties.

If any party disagreed with the “neutral arbitrator”, chosen by the court from a panel notified by the government, the case will be heard by the court, explained Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the mover of the Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) Bill.

After the parties convey their consent, the court will issue a decree for the settlement of their dispute through “Panchayat”, as the bill calls the arbitration process.

PPP member of the committee Syed Naveed Qamar claimed that the legislation would put the poor litigants at the mercy of police and the powerful and said he would append a dissenting note.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid requested him not to do so.

“The law can be revisited if it does not go well,” he said.

But the PPP legislator stood his ground while the law minister said that when passed, the law will come into force in Islamabad at once, and, under Article 144 of the Constitution, all over the country when any of the provincial assemblies adopts it.

“We need to give the courts the option of ADR. We don’t want a forced patch-up but it is observed that once enmity erupts (among litigants) it goes on and on despite both parties wish to patch-up,” he said.

Many forums have been calling for reforming the judicial process that continues to be guided by laws made in 1898, he added.

MNA Naveed Qamar, however, said that the process proposed in the bill would put the poor under greater stress “as police will be used in cases of a dispute between a feudal and poor farmer”.

“Murder and other similar cases should not be included in ADR,” he added. “I will write a note of dissent as this law will force poor people into out-of-court settlements. They will be in no position to refuse it. We should not make laws for the influential,” he said.

Law Minister Hamid responded that out-of-court settlements were already in vogue and appointment of neutral arbitrator by the court will only make the process transparent and relieve the poor of pressure by providing them a fair chance for reasonable settlement.

On the other hand, the term Panchayat gave PTI MNA Mohammad Ali “a look that the bill was only for Punjab”.

“Since sooner or later, the bill will be implemented all over the country, add the word Jirga also (in the bill) for the sake of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the word Jirga is synonymous with Panchayat,” he said.

But the law minister said that “the word Jirga does not give a good look and it (the Jirga system) has not given good decisions”.

Mr Ali was quick to respond that “neither the history of Panchayat has been good as evident from the decision it gave in Mukhtaran Mai case”. Law should not be averse to terms that non government organisations dislike, he said.

That exchange ended in the committee deciding the bill to read “Panchayat or Jirga”.

With that Chairman of the Committee Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk of PML-N declared it “a revolutionary bill” which should be approved. And the committee did so.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2017