Court Overview

Learn which courts are available in South Africa, what power the courts have, how to contact the courts, and what the importance of the Constitutional Court is.

Magistrate Courts

Magistrates courts have the power to deal with more issues than the Small Claims Courts, but less than the High Court.

District Magistrate courts are able to deal with claims up to R200 000, and Regional Magistrate courts can deal with claims up to R400 000.

If a person decides to take a claim to a magistrate court it is advised that they have a legal representative because it is a very complex process.  It should also be noted that although magistrate courts are the cheapest of all the courts, it is still a very expensive and time-consuming process. It is advised to try and settle matters out of court where possible.

Note: The following claims cannot be heard by a Magistrate Court:

  1. Any claims with values higher than R400 000;
  2. Any claims regarding the interpretation of a Will;
  3. Any claims regarding mental capacity; and
  4. Claims where the court is asked to order someone to do something and there is no alternative claim for money.

A person can find their nearest magistrate court on the following website:

http://www.justice.gov.za/contact/lowercourts_full.html

High Courts

High Courts have the power to hear any complaint.  They are the first court of appeal for cases from Magistrate Courts but can also be the first court that a case is heard in for the following reasons:

  1. The claim has a value of more than R400 000;
  2. The claim relates to the interpretation of a Will;
  3. The claim relates to the mental capacity of a person; or
  4. One of the parties has decided that they want to go straight to the High court.  If this is the case and that party loses, or if the court believes that a lower court would have been able to deal with the matter, the court may require that party to pay the costs of court.

Note: High Courts are very expensive and it is rarely in the interest of a party to go through the process suing in the High Court.  Alternatives to dispute resolution such as mediation or arbitration should always be considered before litigation.

Supreme Court of Appeal

The Supreme Court of Appeal is the court that hears matter that are appealed from High Courts.  This court is situated in Bloemfontein and has either 3 or 5 judges hearing a matter at a time.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has the power to hear any kind of claim and can confirm, cancel, replace or amend any orders made by a lower court.  A claim from the Supreme Court of Appeal may only be overturned by the Constitutional Court.

A claim may not go directly to the Supreme Court of Appeal.  This court may only hear a matter once a lower court has already delivered a judgement.

Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court is the highest court in the country and the court of final appeal.  Any judgement made by the Constitutional Court is final. Unlike the Supreme Court of Appeal, some matters can skip the High Courts and go straight to the Constitutional Court if the matter is of a constitutional nature.

The court is situated on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg and has 11 judges that hear matters.

In the past the Constitutional Court has heard the following cases:

  1. S v Makwanyane - The court declared that the death penalty is unconstitutional;
  2. August v Electoral Comission - The court declared that prisoners do have the right to vote;
  3. Government of the RSA v Grootboom - The court declared that the state has the duty to provide everyone with a house;
  4. S v Williams - The court declared that corporal punishment as a sentence for minors was unconstitutional; and
  5. Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development v Prince - The court declared that the prohibition of marijuana for private use is unconstitutional.