Justice changing face of small claims courts

Small claims courts doubled…..

legalDeputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Andries Nel, in his budget vote speech, gave an update on small claims courts in the country, stating that there were now 277 such courts as distinct from 120 in 1994 mostly in white and urban areas.

He told parliamentarians in the portfolio committee on justice that this meant his department was now more than half way in achieving the objective of having one in each of South Africa’s 393 magisterial districts countrywide.

These courts, he said, eliminate time-consuming adversarial procedures before and during the trial thereby providing speedy and cost effective justice, especially for the poor, he said, and a further nine had been established in June 2013.

Judgements made vastly increased

The number of people enjoying the benefits of access to justice through small claims courts “has increased steadily from a period in 2008 when 95,569 new cases were registered, 47,168 summons were issued resulting in 38,257 trials and 22,397 judgments and 9,405 out of court settlements”, he said.

“Meanwhile, the number of summons issued has increased by more than 21,137 to 68,305 and the number of trials also increased by more than 11,788 to 50,045.  Most significantly, the number of judgments jumped by 62,3% to 36,368 and the number of out of court settlements by 102,9% to 19,087.”

What is also notable, said deputy minister Nel, is the number of commissioners presiding over small claims courts and these have almost doubled in the past four years from 811 in 2009 to 1,546 currently. “However, this comprises 1,314 men and 232 women” and he added that serious attention is being given to the gender imbalance.

Equality court system running well

He also mentioned equality courts dealing with racism, sexism, xenophobia and related intolerance under the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, every high Court and magistrates court being designated as an equality court, 619 matters being dealt with for the 2012/13 financial year.

Deputy minister Nel also noted a “dramatic story of transformation” in the sheriff’s profession. In 1994 there were 475 sheriffs. An overwhelming majority of 400 were white men and there were only 40 African men who were located mainly in the so-called homelands

“In 2012 this picture started to change significantly with the appointment of 124 new sheriffs, 64 who were African. A further 120 vacant sheriffs posts will be filled by the end of June this year”, he said.    He thanked the South African Board for Sheriffs under the leadership of Mrs Charmaine Mabuza “for their good work”.


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