South Africa has signed a R3 million extension agreement with the Swiss Confederation on the re-engineering of Small Claims Courts.
The agreement was signed by Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha and Switzerland Ambassador to South Africa Christian Meuwly in Pretoria.
The agreement, which has been implemented in two phases from 2007, is aimed at improving the functioning and efficiency of Small Claims Courts, which provide access to justice for the people, especially the poor.
Phase one of the project started in March 2007 and came to an end in February 2011, with the total contribution of R4.5 million. Thereafter an independent evaluation was done, which showed that the project has a positive impact of the lives of ordinary South Africans.
This saw the introduction of Phase 2 of the project, which was approved to run from March 2011 to 28 February 2015, with a further contribution of R10 million.
Towards the end of the second phase, the Swiss Confederation offered to extend the agreement by a further period of 10 months ending 31 December 2015, with an additional contribution of R3 million.
Aocate Pieter Du Rand, Chief Director for Court Services in the Department of Justice, said South Africa has about 331 Small Claims Courts, with 46 still to be established countrywide.
“Most of these courts are in previously disaantaged communities, towns and townships,” he said.
The project has also contributed to the printing and distribution of guidelines for clerks and commissioners of these courts as well as their training.
This is in addition to the raising of awareness and communication of the work of the courts as well as improving their functions.
Du Rand said the funds will continue to improve access to justice and build on these successes.
“These courts are based on speed, simplicity and cost effectiveness. They were created with the view to eliminate time-consuming aersarial procedures before and during a civil trial,” Du Rand.
He said Small Claims Courts are a powerful mechanism to strengthen the court system of the country.
Meuwly commended government’s endeavour to improve access to justice for poor and marginalised people.
“I am sure the Small Claims Courts are there to improve the standard of living and access to justice ad sense of equity in the country, which is the essence of transformation.”
Minister Masutha welcomed the extension of the agreement.
“It is indeed a day to celebrate for us. This partnership is very important to us. South Africa enjoys very g ties with EU and broadly.
“As Justice, we are particularly proud and grateful of the continued support. We believe that access to justice is our primary mandate and therefore we appreciate the kind of support given by the Swiss in this project.”
He said Small Claims Courts are one area of justice where litigants have free access to justice. “There are no costs involved in litigating in Small Claims Courts.”
Small Claims Courts are used to settle minor civil disputes and claims between parties without representation by an attorney in an informal manner.
An amount not exceeding R15 000 can be claimed at the Small Claims Court. If a claim exceeds R15 000 in value, a claim for a lesser amount can be instituted to pursue a case in the Small Claims Court.
Source : SAnews.gov.za