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South Africa

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The courts of South Africa are the civil and criminal courts responsible for the administration of justice in South Africa. They apply the law of South Africa and are established under the Constitution of South Africa or under Acts of the Parliament of South Africa.

Despite South Africa's division into nine provinces, the country has a single national court system. The courts are funded and supported by the national Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. The ordinary courts are the district and regional magistrates' courts, the provincial divisions of the High Court, and the Supreme Court of Appeal. The Constitutional Court is the highest court for constitutional matters.

Specialist courts have been established for various matters, including Divorce Courts, Labour Courts, the Land Claims Court, Special Income Tax Courts, and the Electoral Court. African customary law is administered by chiefs' and headmen's courts, subject to the Council of Traditional Leaders.


Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court is the final court of appeals for all matters relating to the Constitution of South Africa, and its decisions are binding on all other courts in South Africa.The Constitutional Court has the exclusive power to invalidate as unconstitutional an Act of Parliament or a provincial legislature. (A High Court or the Supreme Court of Appeals may make an order of invalidity, but it does not come into effect until confirmed by the Constitutional Court.)

The Constitutional Court was established by the Interim (1993) Constitution and continued under the Final (1996) Constitution. The court has eleven judges; originally the chief judge was called the President of the Constitutional Court, but that title was changed to Chief Justice of South Africa by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. The Constitutional Court has its seat on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg.

Supreme Court of Appeal

The Supreme Court of Appeal is the court of last resort in all except constitutional matters; it hears only appeals. The court sits in Bloemfontein; the chief judge is called the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal. It has its origin in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa, which was established by the South Africa Act at the formation of the Union of South Africa. The

High Courts

The various provincial divisions of the High Court are courts of general jurisdiction for their designated areas. They hear appeals from the Magistrates' Courts within their area, and act as a court of first instance for cases outside the jurisdiction of the Magistrates' Courts. The present divisions of the High Court are:

The origins of the High Court divisions are in the Supreme Courts of the four colonies (the Cape Colony, Transvaal Colony, Natal Colony and Orange River Colony) from which the Union of South Africa was formed; these became provincial divisions of the Supreme Court of South Africa. When the bantustans of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei received nominal independence, they established their own Supreme Courts; when the bantustans were re-integrated into South Africa on 27 April 1994 these courts also became provincial divisions of the Supreme Court of South Africa.

The 1996 Constitution changed the provincial and local divisions of the Supreme Court to divisions of the High Court. Since that time some changes have been made to rationalise the areas of jurisdiction of the courts; the courts have also been renamed in accordance with the names of the new provinces. When the Superior Courts Bill is passed by parliament, the provinces with multiple courts will see them merged into a single division with multiple "seats", with the exception of Gauteng, in which the North and South divisions will be preserved. It is also expected that a new division will be created at Nelspruit for the province of Mpumalanga, which currently falls under the jurisdiction of the North Gauteng High Court.

Magistrates' Courts

The whole of the territory of South Africa is divided into approximately 350 magisterial districts, with each district having a District Magistrate's Court. These courts can hear civil cases where the value of the claim is no more than R100 000, and in criminal cases can impose a sentence of up to three years imprisonment and a fine of up to R60 000. The magistrates districts are arranged into regions with each region having a Regional Magistrate's Court, which handles more serious criminal cases and cam impose a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of up to R300 000.

See also




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