South African Courts
The Constitutional Court is the court which has the final say on all matters relating to the Constitution of South Africa. Its decisions on the Constitution are binding on all other courts. There are nine judges who make up the court. This court came into existence in 1994.
 Contact Details
Private Bag X1
Tel: (011) 359 7400
Fax: (011) 403 6524
The Supreme Court of Appeal is the court which has the final say on all matters, except those that involve the constitution. For example, all criminal appeal cases from the High Court end up in this court, unless the appeal relates to a point of constitutional law, in which case the Constitutional Court has the final say. The Supreme Court of Appeal used to be called “The Appellate Division”, as it only hears cases on appeal. Decisions of the Supreme Court of Appeal are binding on all courts of a lower order.
 Contact Details
PO Box X258
Supreme Court of Appeal
cnr Elizabeth and President Brand Streets
The next of the “superior courts” is the High Court of South Africa, which used to be called “The Supreme Court”. The High Court divisions have “jurisdiction” – the right to hear a case – over defined geographical areas in which they are situated, and the decisions of the High Courts are binding on magistrate’s courts within their areas of jurisdiction. The High Court divisions have jurisdiction over all matters in their geographical area, but they usually only hear civil matters involving more than R100 000, and serious criminal cases. They also hear any appeals or reviews from lower courts (magistrates’ courts) which fall in their geographical jurisdiction. The High Court usually hears any matter involving a person’s status (for example, adoption, insolvency).
 The Special Income Tax Courts
The Special Income Tax Courts sit within divisions of the High Court and consists of a judge of the High Court assisted by an accountant of not less than 10 years’ standing, and a representative of the business community. This court deals with any disputes between a taxpayer and the South African Revenue Service, where the dispute involves an income tax assessment of more than R100 000. Appeals against its decisions are made directly to the Supreme Court of Appeal. Tax disputes involving an assessment of less than R100 000 go the Tax Board. The Tax Board is chaired by an attorney, advocate or accountant who works in the private sector and is specifically appointed by the President to assist as chairman of the Board.
 Contact Details
You can contact the Special Income Tax Court through the High Court and the Tax Board through the South African Revenue Service.
 Divorce Courts
Since 1998, Divorce Courts have been able to hear any divorce matters – prior to that these courts dealt only with divorces between black people. There are three such courts, the Central, North Eastern and Southern Divorce Courts, and they are designed to deal with less-complicated divorces quickly and inexpensively.
 The Water Tribunal
The Water Tribunal is an independent body which has jurisdiction in all the provinces and consists of a chairperson, a deputy chairperson, and additional members. It has jurisdiction over water disputes. Members of the Water Tribunal must have knowledge in law, engineering, water resource management or related fields of knowledge. They are appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, the body which chooses judges. The Water Tribunal replaced the Water Court in 1998. You can contact the Water Tribunal through the High Court.
The Magistrates’ Courts are the lower courts which deal with most matters. They are divided into regional courts and district courts. There are more than 400 magistrates’ courts in South Africa. They do not have jurisdiction to deal with civil matters dealing with more than R100 000 (unless both the person suing and the person being sued agree to limit the claim to less than R100 000). With criminal cases, more serious criminal matters are heard in the regional courts. This is because district courts cannot pass a sentence of more than three years on conviction of an accused. The most serious criminal matters are heard in the High Court. There are also a number of magistrates’ courts that are specialised to be better able to deal with certain types of matters.
Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear any civil matter involving less than R3 000 (unless both the person suing and the person being sued agree to limit the claim to less R3 000). The judge in the Small Claims Court is called a commissioner and is usually a practising advocate, attorney or a legal academic who acts as a commissioner free of charge. Neither the plaintiff (the person suing) nor the defendant (the person being sued) are allowed to have lawyers in the case. The commissioner’s decision is final and there is no appeal to a higher court. You can contact your nearest Small Claims Court through your nearest Magistrate’s Court.
 Community Courts
Community Courts and Courts for Chiefs and Headmen also have jurisdiction to hear certain matters on the level of magistrates’ courts. They are designed to deal with customary disputes in terms of customary law. An authorised African headman or his deputy may decide cases using indigenous law and custom, brought before him by an African against another African within his area of jurisdiction. These courts are commonly known as chief's courts. A person with a claim has the right to choose whether to bring a claim in the chief’s court or in a magistrate’s court. Contact your local chief if you want a matter heard in this court.
 Labour Courts
At present there are also Labour Courts and Labour Appeal Courts, which have jurisdiction over labour matters and are on the same level as the High Court. However, the Superior Courts Bill will abolish the Labour Courts and they will be absorbed into the High Court.
 Contact Details
You can contact the Labour court through the High Court or by visiting the Labour Courts website.
Private Bag X52
 The Land Claims Court
The Land Claims Court is on the same level as the High Court but is independent of the High Court. It was established in 1996 and hears cases dealing with the return of land taken away during apartheid (land reform cases). The Land Claims Court has its own rules and is allowed to conduct its proceedings informally and inquisitorially (where the judge asks witnesses questions directly, rather than through lawyers) and the court can sit wherever it needs to, although its main office it in Randburg. Appeals go to the Supreme Court of Appeal unless the appeal is on a constitutional question, in which case they go to the Constitutional Court.
 Contact Details
The President of the Land Claims Court is Judge Fikile Bam.
Trust Bank Centre, Randburg Mall, Corner of Hill Street and Kent Avenue, Randburg, 2194
Private Bag X10060, Randburg, 2125
Tel: 011 781 2291
Fax: 011 781 2217/8