Access to Justice and All That Jazz

 

Ever since the South African democratic elections in 1994 South Africans have been bombarded with phrases like ‘access to justice’ and ‘rights for all’.

These concepts, although beautifully laid out in legislation, are often difficult to enforce for one main reason: enforcing ones rights as set out in legislation involves litigation, and litigation is expensive.

This seems to have been somewhat addressed in the amendments to the Magistrate Court Act, Act 32 of 1944 and its relating regulatory Rules of Court.

These Rules have now been amended by the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Act 31 of 2008 which enables the Regional Magistrates’ Court to now hear civil matters effective from 15 October 2010.

What this essentially means is that the Regional Magistrates’ Courts now have the jurisdiction to hear claims for civil matters as well as Road Accident Fund matters of up to R300 000.00. Divorce matters as well as adoption and maintenance issues may now too be dealt with by these Courts.

Further to the aforementioned, in terms of Rule 5(3)(a), the requirement that an address must be appointed for the service of all court processes within an 8km radius from the seat of the Court in which the matter is being heard has been extended to a 15km radius from such seat.

But the question remains: how does this promote access to justice for Joe Public?

The answer, simply put, is that the costs incurred in Magistrates Court proceedings are far cheaper than those in the High Court. By extending the Jurisdiction of the Regional Magistrates’ Court, litigation becomes more accessible to the public on the basis that one will not incur the onerous High Court Costs and therefore making the option of litigation more affordable.

In addition, Rule 25 of the Magistrates’ Court Rules, and Section 54 Magistrates’ Court Act, now allow for a pre-trial conference to be held. Pre-trial conferences are held in order to narrow issues in dispute between the parties which essentially means that that less evidence may need to be led at the trial thereby reducing the length of the trial. A shorter trial means less costs incurred.

These courts are more accessible by virtue of the fact that there are a number of them situated in each province. They cover specified jurisdictional areas within each province.

In Kwazulu-Natal, the seats of the Civil Regional Courts are Durban, Empangeni, Newcastle, Vryheid, Pietermaritzburg and Port Shepstone. Each of these have areas in respect of which the respective Civil Regional Court will have jurisdiction.

Will this make access to justice a certainty for all? Well probably not, however at least these are steps towards putting into practice the rights and freedoms we like to preach.

 

Written by:      Meagan Gillett (Candidate Attorney)

 

 

  • Added 11 July 2012

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