Switzerland helps revitalise SA small claims courts

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pretoria - Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe today signed a cooperative partnership agreement with Swiss Ambassador Rudolf Barfuss extending a project aimed at revitalising the small claims cCourts in South Africa.

The Swiss government, through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, has been a partner of the department on the project for the past four years. It has now made available R10 million towards the project for a further four years.

Speaking at the signing ceremony in Johannesburg earlier today, Radebe said he was delighted with the agreement as it would ensure that justice prevailed in all quarters of South Africa. 

"Small Claims Courts are a powerful mechanism to provide access to justice, especially to the poor," Radebe said, adding that any person can approach the clerk of the small claims court at his/her local magistrate's office and the clerk will assist by providing advice.

Barfuss said the small claims courts were simple, cheap and effective. However, he said that there was a need to increase public awareness on the functioning of the courts.

In 2007, the Swiss and the South African governments entered into an agreement to improve the functioning and efficiency of the Small Claims Courts in South Africa. This led to the implementation of the Project to Re-engineer Small Claims Courts. Phase 1 of the project started in March 2007 and came to an end on 28 February 2011.

The minister agreed that small claims courts must be accessible by all at no cost. He explained that the first six Small Claims Courts were established in 1985 and there were now 224 courts nationally. To date, more than 136 000 cases have been dealt with by the courts, with 1 283 commissioners manning them throughout the country. Of these commissioners, 229 were appointed last year.

He added that the monetary jurisdiction of the small claims courts has been increased in 2010 from R7 000 to R12 000.

About 60 courts are set to be established during the next two years.

In a bid to ensure effective functioning of the courts, Radebe said his department will continue to train legal practitioners and that awareness would be created on the functioning of the courts, especially in the rural areas. - BuaNews