The ordinary courts deal with legal disputes. Administrative tribunals are bodies other than courts of law that are given the power to resolve disputes and to decide cases. Most tribunals are set up by legislation. These tribunals are referred to as statutory tribunals. Statutory tribunals are established outside the ordinary court structure in order to resolve conflicts and decide matters within specific areas. There are various reasons that have led to the setting up of numerous tribunals outside the ordinary court system. The main reasons are–
- it would completely overburden the courts if they had to deal with all the many, varied matters which have been allocated to tribunals to deal with;
- tribunals can deal more expeditiously with cases because their procedures are less formal than those used in ordinary court cases. This means that they are less costly to run than ordinary courts;
- tribunals can be manned by persons who possess technical expertise within the specialist areas being dealt with by the tribunals.
As already pointed out, tribunals are not courts of law. They are supposed to operate on an informal and flexible basis. They are therefore not bound to observe the formal and rigid rules of procedure and of evidence that apply in court cases. They must, however, adopt procedures that allow for a fair hearing of cases and, if they do not do so, the handling of the case can be reviewed by the High Court. (See below for the grounds upon which review cases may be brought.)
Whereas courts of law find the facts and then proceed to apply the appropriate law to those facts, the decisions of administrative tribunals are arrived at more on the basis of policy considerations. With statutory tribunals, although the Legislature may have laid down certain factors which the tribunal may or must take into account, the tribunal finally reaches its conclusion not on the basis of the automatic application of clearly established law to the facts but instead upon the basis of policy considerations, some or all of which may be incorporated into the factors laid down by the Legislature.
A few examples of statutory tribunals in Zimbabwe are such tribunals as–
- the Liquor Licensing Board under Liquor Act [Chapter 14:12] (deals with liquor licence applications);
- the Medicines Control Authority under Medicines and Allied Substances Control Act [Chapter 15:03] (regulates licensing of drugs, conduct of clinical trials etc);
- the Industry and Trade Competition Commission under Competition Act [Chapter 14:28] (encourages and promotes competition in all sectors of the economy, reduces barriers to entry into any sector of the economy or to any form of economic activity; and investigates, discourages and prevents restrictive practices; to ensure that there is reasonable competition);
- the Intellectual Property Tribunal established in terms of the Intellectual Property Tribunal Act [Chapter 26:08] (determines any reference, application, appeal or other matterin terms of the Industrial Designs Act [Chapter26:02], the Patents Act [Chapter 26:03], the Trade Marks Act [Chapter 26:04], the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act [Chapter 26:05], the Geographical Indications Act [Chapter 26:06] or the Integrated Circuit Layout-Designs Act [Chapter 26:07];
- the Rent Boards under Housing and Building Act [Chapter 22:07] (deals with disputes relating to rent control);
- the Civil Aviation Authority under Civil Aviation Act [Chapter 13:16] (deals with applications for air operator’s certificates);
- the Commissioner under War Victims Compensation Act [Chapter 11:06] (deals with applications for compensation under the Act);
- Lotteries and Gaming Board under Lotteries and Gaming Act [Chapter 10:26] (deals with applications for gaming licences);
- Licensing authorities under Shop Licences Act [Chapter 14:17] (deals with shop licence applications).
Various professional bodies are empowered by legislation to regulate and discipline members of their professions, for instance the Law Society, the Architects Council, the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Estate Agents Council.
By statute decision-making powers can be granted to individuals rather than tribunals. For instance, in terms of section 93 the Labour Act [Chapter 29:01] labour officers are given the power to settle through conciliation a dispute or a complaint of an unfair labour practice.
Tribunals can also be established by voluntary contractual arrangement between private parties. These are referred to as domestic tribunals. Examples of domestic tribunals are bodies such as disciplinary committees of private clubs and other private institutions.