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Keynote address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitution Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the launch of the Richmond Small Claims Court, Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal, 25 July 2016

Programme Director
MEC of Community Safety and Liaison, Mr Mxolisi Kaunda,
District Mayor of uMgungundlovu District Municipality, Cllr Yusuf Bhamjee,
Mayor of the Richmond Local Municipality Cllr Andrew Ragavoloo
Members of the judiciary
Members of the Advisory Board and Commissioners
Representatives from government departments, the SAPS and the NPA
Representatives of the legal profession and civil society
Ladies and gentlemen, friends
Sanibonani, good morning and welcome.
Sometimes when people think of “justice”, they think of high profile cases, cases which attract a lot of media interest – cases that involve a well-known person, or civil cases which involve a very large sum of money, or criminal trials which grab the public’s attention, like Oscar Pistorius for example.
One can nearly set the scene of the news clip in one’s mind – the legal representatives with their robes, their briefcases and files on the steps of a High Court or views of the full bench of the Constitutional Court.

But we forget that justice is much more than that.
Justice is the single mother who goes to the maintenance court, because if she doesn’t get her maintenance her children can’t eat.
Justice is the court interpreter translating court proceedings so that an accused can know the case against them.
Justice is the clerk of the Small Claims Court assisting a claimant who wants to institute action for, let’s say, R800 – and to that claimant R800 is a significant amount of money and the court is a scary place, with procedures that are unfamiliar.
Since 1994 we have been working tirelessly to ensure that justice is not only for certain people - like those belonging to a certain race or those living in the city or those with money.
Justice is, and always should be, for everyone.

Small Claims Courts were first introduced in 1985.  In 1994, at the dawn of our democracy, the Small Claims Courts were mostly in white and urban areas. Since then our Department has focused on establishing Small Claims Courts in areas that previously had no access to justice services.
That is why the vast majority of the new courts and places of sitting are in rural areas and former black areas.

What are Small Claims Courts? These courts are used to settle minor civil disputes and claims between parties in an informal manner. The highest amount for which an individual dispute can be settled is up to R15 000. If the amount under dispute is more than R15 000, the person claiming can lessen his/her claim to R15 000. There are certain types of cases that these courts don’t hear, like divorce matters.

Herein lies the most positive aspects of small claims courts – it levels the playing the field.  If there is one court where the parties are truly equal before the law, it is the small claims court. It doesn’t matter if one party to a dispute is unable to afford a lawyer, because the parties represent themselves. And if you don’t know how to go about the process, the clerk of the court is there to help you. The service is rendered free of charge.  All you would need to pay are the sheriffs’ fees if you win your case and the person you are claiming from doesn’t pay up. There are different types of claims that can be brought to a Small Claims Court:

  • It could be, for example, for the repayment of monies lent - where you have lent money to someone and that person has failed to repay the money. The amount of money owed should not exceed R 15 000.
  • Or where somebody buys something from you, like a piece of furniture, but doesn’t pay you for it, you would be able to claim for the payment, if the amount is not more than R15 000.
  • Or where a person rents your property, is in arrears with the rent and the rental arrear amount does not exceed R 15 000.
  • Or for damages, where for example, you are in a car accident and the damages to the car are not more than R15 000, you could claim for the damages.

Currently, there are 378 Small Claims Courts nationally and additional Courts are being established on a continuous basis.  Over the past financial year, we have established 40 new Small Claims Court countrywide.  We only need to establish 27 more Small Claims Courts to be fully compliant – which means that we will then have a Small Claims Court in each magisterial district in the country. Of the 27 that still need to be established, 10 are already in the process, so we only have 17 more to establish and we are confident that we will do so during this financial year.

Kwazulu-Natal has 54 magisterial districts, with 51 Small Claims Courts established. Of the three that still need to be established, two are already in the process, namely for Ezakheni and Weenen. With regards to the establishment of the Kranskop Magistrates’ Court Small Claims Court, the Court Manager and Regional Office are working towards overcoming the challenges in respect of the lack of persons to sit as Commissioners.

Some of you may recall that when I was here at the Dialogue on the Fight against Crime which we held at the S’Lahla Community Hall in September last year, I said that we would establish a Small Claims Court here. And we did. The Small Claims Court at Richmond Court was established on 21 September 2015. There are currently two Commissioners, Mr Gakool and Mr Sundar, serving at this court. I would particularly like to thank them for their contribution because Small Claims Court Commissioners provide their services for free.   This court sits monthly on a Friday at 9am. 

The Small Claims Court Advisory Board which is required to hold biannual meetings comprises of six members;

  • Mayor Andrew Ragavallo, who is the Chairperson of the board;
  • Mr Sanjay Mewalall, the Vice-Chairperson,
  • Mr Bongani Ndlovu, member
  • Mr Jethro Jili, member;
  • Mr Thathokwakhe Kunene; and
  • Ms Buhle Phahla, secretary.

I want to take this opportunity to also thank the Advisory Board Members for their time and efforts in making this Small Claims Court a success. A successful training session for the Small Claims Court Clerks was conducted in September 2015.  In 2014 the Commissioners had a training session in Durban which greatly benefitted all and calls have been received for a similar training session to be held for the Small Claims Court Commissioners in KZN. The date chosen for this training is 17 September 2016.

We now need the community to spread the word about the Small Claims Court. The Court is here for people to use. And it’s also important to know which other justice services are available at the Magistrates’ Court. The Richmond Magistrates’ Court was officially opened on 25 September 1970. This means that next month we will be celebrating its 46th anniversary. The Court provides serves a population of approximately 74000 people. The Court attends to Criminal, Civil, Equality and Family Court matters, with the most recent addition to the civil services being the establishment of the Small Claims Court.
In 2015 there were 341 Domestic Violence matters and 151 Maintenance matters and the court dealt with 459 criminal matters of which 15 were sexual offence matters.

I am advised that 26 matters were registered in the SCC this year - 6 of these matters went before a Commissioner, as the others were either abandoned or settled out of court. I have requested that it be established why claimants abandon their claims.

I would also like to highlight the work being done by the KZN Regional Office of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development which has conducted various public education sessions in schools in the area. In January this year, 20 schools were visited in the Hopewell area and 2977 children were reached. The topics covered relate to Child Protection, the Children’s Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Child Justice Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Protection from Harassment Act.

Initiatives such as these ensure that justice is extended to the people of Richmond and the province of KwaZulu-Natal. This is also why we have embarked on a re-demarcation process which sees our Department aiming to align magisterial boundaries to that of the municipal boundaries. The ultimate aim is for communities to have better and easier access to justice. Where the re-alignment process affects the above communities, affected communities and relevant stakeholders have been consulted as community participation in government processes in extremely important to us.

Later this afternoon, there will be the Richmond Crime Prevention event, which focuses on community re-integration. The aim of the programme will be to promote community reintegration of offenders and to promote a safe and peaceful community. It is important for us as government to ensure that the community is involved in what we do, and for us to keep you informed.  We’ve therefore also had community sessions earlier this month in Hopewell, Simozomeni, Nhlazuka, here in Richmond and also in Ndaleni.

We value events such as these community sessions, the launch of the Small Claims Court here this morning and the Crime Prevention event this afternoon as these are valuable ways of interacting and sharing information with our communities.

I thank you. Ngiyabonga.