How the Constitutional Court functions
within the broader democracy
The Constitutional Court is the highest court in all matters and may adjudicate on all constitutional matters and other related matters in the public interest. It is generally not a court of first instance unless direct access is granted as per section 167(4) of the Constitution where a litigant may seek direct access or appeal in the interests of justice. The Court sits in Johannesburg.
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) may decide on any appeal arising from a high court. As suggested by its name, this is an appeal court and not a court of first instance and it has jurisdiction over every appeal matter in South Africa. Generally, the quorum for an SCA matter is five judges and a majority rule. The SCA sits in Bloemfontein.
The High Court of South Africa is a single court divided according to provincial jurisdictions. Some provinces have more than one High Court division. The High Court is a court of first instance which means a matter can start in the High Court so long as it meets the jurisdictional requirements. The High Court also acts as a court of appeal and review for the Magistrates’ Court.
Magistrates’ courts are divided into district and regional courts with over 700 district courts in South Africa, each exercising jurisdiction over a specific geographic location. Magistrates’ courts can adjudicate on civil and criminal matters and any matter determined by an Act of Parliament but cannot rule on the constitutionality of any matter or the conduct of the President. Magistrates’ court, generally, cannot set judicial precedent.
District courts have jurisdiction over minor criminal matters and civil matters up to R200 000.00. Regional courts have jurisdiction over family matters like divorces, maintenance, custody matters and civil matters between R 200 000.00 – R 400 000.00.
The small Claims Court intends to make access to justice and the court more accessible to those who cannot afford magistrates’ court and high court fees. Litigants, natural persons only, represent themselves in the court and conduct their own cases. The monetary jurisdiction is R15 000 and below.
There are a series of specialised courts designed to prevent a backlog in the main high courts. These courts have the same standing, power and authority as high courts in relation to matters within their jurisdiction. They generally have unique procedures and rules that differ from the high courts and often allow for the use of less formal proceedings and the use of alternative dispute resolution models.
This court has jurisdiction over all matters related to the Labour Relations Act and other labour related acts and laws.
Land Claims Court
This court has jurisdiction over all matters related to the Land Rights Act. It has exclusive jurisdiction to determine a right to restitution of any land, issues of compensation, titles to land and whether compensation received at the time of dispossession of land was just and equitable.
Special Income Tax Court
This court has jurisdiction over all matters related to the Tax Administration Act. It can hear matters relating to income tax appeals by persons dissatisfied with decisions made by the Commissioner of the South African Revenue Services. This court is presided over by a high court judge and an accountant with no less than 10 years’ experience.
Competition Appeal Court
The Competition Act established the Competition Commission which is responsible for investigating, controlling and evaluating restrictive practices, abuses of power and mergers in the private sector. The Competition Tribunal is the adjudicating body of this Act. The Competition Appeal Court may review and appeal the decision of the Competition tribunal.
This court has jurisdiction over matters related to the Electoral Commission Act and all electoral matters. This court may hear appeals and reviews from the Electoral Commission.
The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) protects consumer rights and sets out regulations for suppliers of goods and services. This court may hear matters relating to consumers enforcing rights set out in the CPA and resolving disputes between consumers and suppliers.
The Children’s Act provides for a children’s court and all magistrates’ courts and high courts can operate as children’s courts acting in the best interests of the child.
The Maintenance Act provides for a court designed to assist applicants to obtain and enforce maintenance orders.
The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act states that all high courts and magistrates’ courts also function as equality courts dealing with matters relating to complaints of unfair discrimination. Judges and magistrates must receive special training before presiding over matters relating to the Equality Court.