South Africa’s new rules for small claims have come into effect, adjusting key aspects of the country’s small claims courts.
Small claims courts offer a quicker and easier way of resolving certain civil disputes that involve amounts of up to R20,000.
The new rules outline the various procedures that must be followed when making small claims, including all the necessary forms that must be filled in and submitted – by both applicants and defendants – and the fees involved.
The draft rules were first gazetted in October 2022. Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, announced that the changes came into effect from 1 April 2023.
Jeffery said that small claims courts are the “frontline courts” at the very coalface of people’s need for an accessible and user-friendly justice system.
“An accessible justice system must be inexpensive, easy to understand and deliver results speedily. This is exactly what our small claims courts do. They are a speedy, simple and cost-effective way to resolve disputes,” he said.
For the period 1 April – 31 December 2022, a total number of 23,453 small claim court cases were registered across the country, amounting to a total of R160 million. In the majority of matters, the cause of action registered was due to money owed.
In addition to the new rules coming into effect, Jeffery noted that the Codified Instructions for Clerks of the Small Claims Courts were also amended and a Circular sent out.
“The appointment details were, for the first time, included in the Code. This provides the contact details of Clerks of the Courts and Commissioners in case a magisterial district needs to use a Commissioner from a neighbouring district.
“We have also developed a Guide intended to highlight those changes made by the new Small Claims Court Rules which provide for new procedures, require new forms to be used or for new responsibilities being placed on clerks and functionaries of the Small Claims Courts,” he said.
Because the small claims court often deals with laymen in the legal processes, more leeway is given in the rules. This includes not having errors and misspellings with dates and figures invalidate claims, and not having default judgements against parties where certain rules aren’t complied with.
The fees charged in the execution of court duties are also lower than one would expect from legal proceedings and billed to the mandator of the claim.
- Issuing a summons comes with a charge of between R45.00 and R70.00, depending on the distance from the office;
- An attempted service of a summons between R37.50 and R63.00;
- Execution of a warrant between R63.00 and R87.50;
- An attempted execution between R52.00 and R79.50;
- In addition to these fees, the sheriff of the court is allowed a travelling allowance of R6.00 per kilometre travelled for the shortest possible route in executing their duties;
- Ejectment of a defendant is R22.50 for the first 30 minutes, thereafter R67.50 per hour;
- Other fees include charges for telephone calls, writing letters or emails related to the matter for R11.00; sending faxes and emails for R6.50; and making copies of official documentation for R5.00.
If parties want to review the proceedings of the small claims court, they would have to apply to the High Court. This can only be done on certain grounds, the rules state. These include:
- The small claims court does not have jurisdiction over the matter
- There is an interest in the cause, bias or malice by the commissioner
- There is a gross irregularity in proceedings.