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SA Government signs extended agreement with the Swiss Confederation to strengthen Small Claims Courts

11 May 2015

The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Adv. Michael Masutha (MP) has signed a R3 million extension agreement on behalf of the South African Government with the Swiss Confederation on the re-engineering of Small Claims Courts today, 11 May 2015. The agreement which has been implemented in two phases from 2007 to 2011 is aimed at improving the functioning and efficiency of the Small Claims Courts.

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 for Government and consequently, in the last two decades, specific initiatives were undertaken to extend access to justice.  

Government, represented by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development, entered into an agreement with the Government of the Swiss Confederation, represented by the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC) to implement the re-engineer project of the Small Claims Courts through donor funding. 

Phase 1 of the project started in March 2007 and came to an end on 28 February 2011, with a total contribution of R4,5 million.  An independent evaluation was done and due to the very positive assessment results, Phase 2 of the project was subsequently approved and ran from 1 March 2011 to 28 February 2015, with a further contribution of R10 million.

Towards the end of the second phase, the Swiss Confederation offered to extend the agreement by a further period of ten months, ending on 31 December 2015, with an additional contribution of R3 million. 

The extension of the agreement is done by way of an addendum to the original agreement and it is this addendum to the agreement which was signed by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Adv Michael Masutha, MP and the Swiss Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Christian Meuwly today.

The project has significantly contributed to the following successes:

  • The establishment of 331 Small Claims Courts to date, with only 46 more still to be established country-wide.  Since 2009, the Department has established 142 new Small Claims Courts.  Most courts were in the previously disadvantaged communities, rural towns and townships.
  • 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, launching ceremonies for new Small Claims Courts and recognition ceremonies for the long service of Small Claims Court Commissioners.
  • The promotion of legislative amendments to the Small Claims Courts Act;
  • Improved SCC functional operations;  

Regular National Steering Committee meetings (where the Swiss Confederation was represented) continuously measures progress in terms of the project.  The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development chairs this meeting, as he has been delegated the function of establishing new Small Claims Courts and appointing Commissioners.

Any person can come to the Small Claims Court. It is free of charge, all one has to pay are the Sheriff’s fees and one does not need a lawyer.  These 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 the amount under dispute is more than R15 000, the person claiming can lessen his/her claim to R15 000.

Claims in the Small Claims Court are disputes over civil matters. The plaintiff (the person claiming) must prove that the defendant has done something that makes him/her liable for damages.  Examples of this would be that the defendant has failed to pay rent owed, caused an accident resulting in damage to the plaintiff’s property or ordered and received goods without paying for it. Other claims may relate to money lent, movable or immovable property, occupation of a property, mortgage bonds, promissory notes and credit agreements. 

The Commissioners who preside in these courts are drawn from a pool of experienced legal professionals and academics, who provide their services free of charge.

An accessible justice system must be inexpensive, easy to understand and deliver results speedily. This is exactly what our Small Claims Courts do. Small Claims Courts are a speedy, simple and cost-effective way to resolve disputes and help to make justice a reality for all our people.

Issued by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development  

Enquiries: Advocate Mthunzi Mhaga
Spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Correctional services