The National Assembly on Friday passed a bill giving legal and constitutional cover to the centuries old jirga and panchayat systems in the country with a view to ensure speedy resolution of petty civil matters and reduce the burden of litigations on the courts.

The bill was tabled by Law Minister Zahid Hamid and is enforced with immediate effect from Friday in the federal capital. Gradually it will be implemented in provinces with the consent of provincial governments as amendments in civil laws are in the domain of the provincies.

The law minister told the house that either the federal government will request provinces or the provinces will request the federal government for implementation of the new legislation.

“The system exists in the country for the last several years and we are giving it a legal cover,” the minister added.

The bill called Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) Bill-2016 was passed by 23 members - 17 from the treasury benches and six from the opposition out of total house of 342.

The law minister also told the house that the ADR system will settle 23 types of civil and criminal disputes.

Members of the opposition benches from the PPP, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) raised some objections on the bill, but eventually passed it.

Under ADR system mediators, who will be called ‘Neutrals’, will be appointed by the government to settle disputes as the judge.

“Under the system the government will appoint panels of Neutrals in all districts in consultation with the relevant high courts and the courts will appoint them as mediators in different disputes,” Hamid said.

The PTI and PPP leaders supported the bill but raised some concerns. PTI leader Shafqat Mehmood questioned the appointment of ‘Neutrals’ in the Panchayat system.

PPP leader Nafisa Shah and PTI leader Dr Shireen Mazari expressed concerns over rights of women in the system and demanded women ‘Neutrals’ too.

“The dispute will be settled with consent of both parties in the dispute and if any woman feels that she is not being given justice, she can move the court,” added Hamid.

The law minister said there will be no punishment in the disputes to be settled by the ADR system.

Disputes under ADR system will be heard in ADR centers to be notified by the government.

Regarding appointment of Neutrals, the bill said: “The government, after consultation with the high court, shall notify in the official gazette a panel of neutrals for each district from amongst lawyers, retired Judges of superior and subordinate judiciare, retired civil servants, social workers, ulema, jurists, technocrats and expels and such other persons of repute and integrity having such qualifications and, c experience as may prescribed.”

The bill added that complaints will be lodged at an ADR centre and it will refer the matter to a ‘Neutral’ or such other person as may be agreed upon by the parties.

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