26 May 2010
The establishment of the first Small Claims Court in Alexandra, Johannesburg will provide its residents with a speedy, simple and accessible forum to resolve their disputes, says Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel.
“Citizens of Alexandra will now be able to turn to a Small Claims Court for a resolution to their disputes,” he said at the opening of the court in the Johannesburg township this week.
“Usually, Small Claim Court matters are dispensed within a month or two, providing people with a simple, speedy and accessible forum that will make a huge difference in people’s lives.”
Providing access to justice
There are 207 functioning Small Claims Courts in South Africa’s 384 magisterial districts, but the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is aiming for at least one per district.
The department has set the target of establishing 60 more courts by April 2011, and has already set up 11 since April this year. The courts deal with civil disputes of up to R7 000, and no legal representatives are required or allowed to appear on behalf of the litigants.
Small Claims Courts were a powerful mechanism to provide access to justice, especially for the poor, Nel said.
He further called on legal practitioners with at least five years’ experience to volunteer their services as commissioners at Small Claims Courts, adding that the country needed more commissioners for courts that were being established across the country.
The commissioners who preside over cases in Small Claims Court do so without any compensation, and Nel said that South Africa needed more men and women who had a burning passion for justice and were willing to go the extra mile, to become commissioners.
The latest court would play a major role in the lives of the residents of Alexandra and the department would embark on a campaign to popularise the usage of Small Claims Court, Nel said.
Alexandra Advisory Board chairman Thomas Rikhotso said Alexandra residents were overjoyed that a Small Claims Court had been established in their area.
“I worked in Randburg for eight years and I know how people from Alexandra had to travel to Randburg, some of them on foot, to access a Small Claims Court,” he said. “I’m excited that today they will get these services at their doorstep.”
Nel also launched guidelines for commissioners and clerks of Small Claims Courts. The guidelines would assist commissioners preside over matters and also ensure that there was uniformity in all the Small Claims Courts across the country.
The guidelines would also be used in the training of clerks at the courts, who were the first Small Claim Court officials to interact with the public.