Minister signs extended agreement with Swiss Agency
By Mokgethwa Ngoepe, Internal Communication
Access to justice has been elevated again when the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, MP, signed an extended agreement on the funding of the Small Claims Courts (SCC) with the Switzerland Ambassador to South Africa, Mr Christian Meuwly recently.
The renewed agreement of R3m, signed in Pretoria on 11 May 2015, between South Africa and Swiss Confederation government, represented by Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation will improve the functioning and efficiency of the small claims courts in the country. It will run until December 2015.
“We really appreciate this fruitful partnership with the Swiss as we have been working together with them for quite a very long time, their support is highly appreciated. I would also express my sincere gratitude especially to the commissioners who volunteer to offer their services free of charge thus making small claims courts possible,” remarked Minister Masutha.
Small claims courts are used to settle minor civil disputes and claims between parties without representation by an attorney, in an informal manner. The highest amount for which an individual dispute can be settled is up to R15 000.
If an amount under dispute is more than R15 000, a person claiming can lessen his/her claim to R15 000. Claims in these courts are disputes over civil matters and other claims may relate to money lent, movable or immovable property, occupation of a property, mortgage bonds, promissory notes and credit agreements.
The first phase of the small claims court project with the Swiss Government was first introduced in March 2007 to February 2011 where Swiss Agency injected R4, 5 million. At the end of phase one, an independent evaluation was done and due to positive assessment results, phase two of the project was subsequently approved with a further contribution of R10 million, between March 2011 and February 2015.
Towards the end of the second phase this year, the Swiss Confederation offered to extend the agreement by a further period of 10 months, ending on 31 December 2015, with an additional contribution of R3 million.
In his discussions, Minister Masutha stated that the small claims courts are a powerful mechanism to provide access to justice to the people of South Africa, especially the poor. “Improving access to justice for all and enhancing the rule of law have been critical priorities of government and consequently, in the last two decades, specific initiatives were undertaken to extend access to justice, “he remarked.
Switzerland Ambassador, Mr Christian Meuwly, indicated that the project has been a very successful partnership in which Switzerland has made available an overall contribution of R13 million.
“It is a great pleasure for me to sign the extension of an agreement between the Republic of South Africa and Switzerland on a project which started in 2007. This extension will ensure Swiss support until the end of December 2015,” he said.
The ambassador added that Switzerland will continue to contribute to the establishment of additional small claims courts, train more clerks and commissioners whilst enhancing the visibility and access to the public.
The project has significantly contributed to the following successes:
- The development, printing and distribution of Guidelines for Clerks and Commissioners of the Small Claims Courts. These Guidelines are now being revised and updated.
- The training of 270 clerks and 487 commissioners of the small claims courts.
- The project has further assisted in increasing the profile of small claims courts through awareness-raising and communication programmes, which include pamphlets in all the official languages, an English poster for Magistrates’ Courts, Imbizo, launches for new small claims courts and recognition ceremonies for the long service of SCC Commissioners.
- The promotion of legislative amendments to the Small Claims Courts Act;
- Improved SCC functional operations.
Published: 19 May 2015