Tonga: Enforcing contracts quickly, with help from the neighbors

Authors: Anthony Ford and Oliver Lorenz
Publication: Celebrating Reforms 2008
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The efficiency of contract enforcement was especially poor in Tonga: it ranked 126 of 175 countries. What could be done? Bringing technology to litigation was the suggested answer. And it worked. Computerization help cut the average time to enforce contracts from 510 days to 350 days by October 2007, making Tonga the world’s top reformer in contract enforcement. In just over a year, the reform struck close to 100% of dormant cases, placed all others on a strict timetable, introduced mediation, and increased the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court. This case study tracks court reform Tonga from a suggestion to reality, with help from Australia.

Main Findings

  • The average time to enforce contracts in Tonga fell from 510 days to 350 days by October 2007.
  • The goal to dispose of 90% of active cases within 2 years, taking into account the preexisting backlog, has so far proved feasible. 
  • Mediation usage continues to grow, freeing court resources. Most litigants now consent to it, and 8 in 10 reach settlements out of court.
  • The Tongan judicial system is becoming recognized as one of the most efficient in the Pacific islands.