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  • Supreme Court of Appeal South Africa

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    The Supreme Court of Appeal is based in Bloemfontein, which is the Judicial Capital of South Africa. It is the highest 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.

    Except for the Constitutional Court, no other court can change a decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal as it's decisions are binding on all courts of a lower order. Three to five Judges listen and decide on all cases of the Supreme Court of Appeal. The final decision of this court is the one supported by the majority of the judges listening to the case. The President of the Supreme Court of Appeal is the Honourable L.Mpati and the Deputy President is the Honourable L.Harms.

    In 1996 the Appellate Division was renamed the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa by the Constitution. According to the Constitution the Court functions only as a court of appeal; may decide any matter on appeal and is, except for constitutional matters, the highest court of appeal [About the Court]. It is presided over by a President of the Court, and assisted by a Deputy President. The Chief Justice now presides over the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. There are at present 22 judicial positions in the Court, including the President and the Deputy President.

    ** Contact Lawyers in South Africa:

    List of Various Courts in South Africa

    1. Constitutional Court - Is the highest court in South Africa. It has the final say on all matters relating to the Constitution ONLY of South Africa

    2. Supreme Court of Appeal - Highest Court of Appeal EXCEPT in matters related to Constitution

    3. High Courts of South Africa - The High Courts of South Africa used to be called "The Supreme Courts". They listen to any case which is too serious for the Magistrate's Court or when a person or organisation goes to the court to change a decision of a Magistrate's Court, which means appealing a case.

    Cases of the High Court are listened to by one judge, meaning a person with many years of practical experience. But if it is a case on appeal, then at least two judges must hear the case.

    Sometimes if the case is about a very serious crime then a judge and two experienced people in law who are usually advocates or magistrates who have retired, will listen to the case. The two people are called assessors. Even if there are assessors, the judge does not have to listen to what they believe, but they usually help the judge make a decision.

    The High Court divisions have "jurisdiction" - the right to hear a case - over defined provincial areas in which they are situated, and the decisions of the High Courts are binding on Magistrate's Courts within their areas of jurisdiction. 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 etc.).

    4. Circuit Courts - Circut Courts are also part of the High Court. They sit at least twice a year, moving around to serve more rural areas. They can be contacted through the High Court.

    5. 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. You can contact the Special Income Tax Court through the High Court and the Tax Board through the South African Revenue Service.

    6. Labour Courts and Labour Appeal Courts - The Labour Courts have the same status as a High Court. The Labour Courts adjudicates matters relating to labour disputes between an employer and employee. It is mainly guided by the Labour Relations Act which deals with matters such as unfair labour practices for example dismissing an employee without giving notice. The Labour Court can order an employer or employee or union to stop committing an unfair labour practice. It can give jobs back to employees who have lost their jobs unfairly, and so on. The Labour Appeal Court hears appeals against decisions in the Labour Court and this is the highest court for labour appeals.

    7. Divorce Courts - Divorce Courts hear any matters relating to divorce. 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 Southern Divorce Court is the divorce court that has jurisdiction in the Western Cape, and it has offices at the Family Court Centre in Cape Town and a satellite office in Mitchell's Plain. You can contact the Family Court Centre through the Cape Town Magistrate's Court. (It is envisaged that these courts' functions will come to an end at the end of July 2010, as these functions will be moved to the Regional Courts when their civil jurisdiction comes into operation).

    8. Land Claims Courts - The Land Claims Court specialises in dealing with disputes that arise out of laws that underpin South Africa's land reform initiative. These are the Restitution of Land Rights Act, 1994, the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, 1996 and the Extension of Security of Tenure Act, 1997. The Land Claims Court has the same status as the High Courts. Any appeal against a decision of the Land Claims Court lies with the Supreme Court of Appeal, and if appropriate, to the Constitutional Court. The Land Claims Court can hold hearings in any part of the country if it thinks this will make it more accessible and it can conduct its proceedings in an informal way if this is appropriate, although its main office it in Randburg. You can contact the Land Claims Court in Randburg

    9. 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.

    10. Truth and Reconciliation Commission - was not a court as such but a different kind of forum set up to deal with crimes related to politics committed during apartheid. The Amnesty Committee had the power to grant amnesty (which means the perpetrator cannot be prosecuted) for politically motivated crimes fully and truthfully confessed, under certain conditions. The Human Rights Violation Committee decided on acts which constituted violations of human rights, based on statements made to the TRC. Once victims of gross human rights violations are identified, they were referred to the Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee, which decides on how to compensate victims. The work of the TRC is almost complete. Those who were not granted amnesty by the TRC for crimes committed during apartheid can be prosecuted.

    11. Magistrates’ Courts - The Magistrates courts are the lower courts which deal with the less serious criminal and civil cases. They are divided into regional courts and district courts.In Criminal Courts the state prosecutes people for breaking the law. Criminal Courts can be divided into two groups:

    # Regional Magistrate's Courts
    # Ordinary Magistrate's Courts (also called District Courts)

    12. Small Claims Courts - Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear any civil matter involving less than R 7 000 (unless both the person suing and the person being sued agree to limit the claim to less R7 000). But some cases cannot be taken to the Small Claims Court even if they are for R7 000 or less. Examples of these claims are:

    * divorce
    * matters concerning a will
    * * malicious prosecution
    wrongful imprisonment
    * seduction

    Breach of promise to marry
    There is no magistrate or judge in the Small Claims Court, but the presiding officer is a Commissioner who is usually a practicing advocate or an attorney who acts as a commissioner free of charge. The Commissioner listens to both sides and asks all the questions since you cannot use a lawyer in the Small Claims Court, but you can get advice from a paralegal or a lawyer to prepare for your case.

    No appeal may be filed against the judgment or order of the Small Claims Courts. The court proceedings may however be referred to the High Court for review on three grounds, namely: absence of jurisdiction by the court; interest in the cause, bias, malice or corruption on the part of the commissioner and gross irregularity with regard to the proceedings. You can contact your nearest Small Claims Court through your nearest Magistrate's Court.

    13. Community Courts - These courts can be described as "district courts" that deal with the same cases as normal magistrate's court, the difference being that they only deal with petty crimes such as shoplifting cases, petty theft, petty gambling offences, petty traffic offences, drunkenness, drinking in public, riotous behaviour, failure to comply with a lawful instruction of a police officer, various train-related offences, common assault etc

    14. Equality Courts - Equality Courts have been set up to help someone who believes that they have suffered unfair discrimination, hate speech or harassment. These courts make sure that it is easy for someone with such a case to bring their case to the court and that the issue is finalised quickly.

    15. Child Justice Courts - The child justice system tries to make sure that children under the age of 18 years do not commit a crime at all. If it is believed they have committed one and a case is opened against them, the law must deal with them looking at their age. This might sometimes be about not going to court, but finding another way to understand and change the child.

    If they are found guilty of the crime the most important thing should be to try find a way that makes sure they return to their community changed in a way that will make sure they will not repeat the crime.

    The child justice system is also about protecting communities from children who do crime, but it wants it done in a way that is different from how the criminal justice system works for example it says that if a child is arrested they must be assessed by someone called a probation officer before they appear in court. Even though it is like the child coming to court for the first appearance, at this time questions asked are about understanding the child and what caused what happened, its called inquisitorial in nature. The outcomes can be for the case to go through a process different from the courts. For example the child can accept they have done what it is said they did and there would be no trial, but just sentencing of the crime done.

    Police are also encouraged not to put children in jail, unless there is nothing else they can do.

    If found guilty a child's sentence can be to do work for the community, paying back the person wronged or being sent to a child or youth centre which focuses on changing children who have committed crimes and others. Sending a child to jail must be the last option and if done, must be for the shortest time possible.

    Also important to know is that anyone under the age of eighteen (18) is a child and a child of fourteen (14) years or younger cannot be send to jail. Children of ten (10) years and younger cannot commit a crime since they are not expected to be able to tell the difference between wrong and right.

    16. Maintenance Courts - The Maintenance Court is situated in the Magistrate's Court. Mothers or fathers who do not get support for their children from the other parent can go there to claim maintenance from that parent.

    There is a Maintenance Officer in charge of the Maintenance matter. It is not necessary to have an attorney to claim maintenance. The Maintenance Officer will help you to fill in the necessary forms.

    If one of the parents of the child refuses to pay maintenance then the case must go to the Maintenance Court. If so, the Maintenance Officer will give details on when to appear in court and which court to go to.

    17. Sexual Offence's Courts - As part of responding to the problem of sexual offences, special sexual offences courts are set up across the country. They are built in such a way that children and victims get the necessary care, respect and support at the court.

    For example, there is a waiting room to make sure that the woman or the child who is a victim of e.g. rape, does not come in contact with the person accused. Toys are also available to make sure a relaxed atmosphere is created for a child.

    In some cases television is used to make sure that evidence by the victim in given in a comfortable way.

    The other programmes that is also implemented is that it is now made easier for victims to lay a charge by opening a case at a one-stop centre called a Thuthuzela Care Centre which is at a hospital.

    18. Children's Courts - Children's Courts have been established for circumstances where for example, a person or parent has the responsibility to look after the daily needs of a child (child custody). That means they will provide a home for the child, feed and support them, look after their daily needs and make sure they get an education.

    19. Courts for Chiefs and Headmen - These courts have jurisdiction to hear certain matters on the level of magistrate's courts. They are designed to deal with customary issues in terms of customary law. An authorised African headman or his deputy may decide cases using indigenous law and custom (for example, disputes over ownership of cattle or lobolo), brought before him by an African against another African within his area of jurisdiction.

    These courts are commonly known as Chiefs 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. Anyone who is not satisfied with the decision in a chief's or headman's court can take their matter to the ordinary courts.

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