_: President Jacob Zuma has signed the Superior Courts Bill into law as part of efforts to enhance equal access to justice. The Act heralds a new chapter in our Superior Courts which are still largely structured in accordance with the Supreme Court Act of 1959 passed early on during apartheid rule.
The Superior Courts Act now provides a legislative framework for the re-organisation and rationalisation of the structures of the High Court and their jurisdictional areas with a view primarily to enhance equal access to justice.
Through the Act’s implementation, the current 13 High Courts which included High Courts inherited from the former “self-governing” apartheid homelands of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Ciskei and Venda, will be rationalised into a single High Court with a fully functional Division of the Court established in each province.
Larger divisions will in turn have one or more local seats as may be necessary to bring justice closer to where people live.
“The communities who live in the now Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces have endured the hardship of accessing the High Court in North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria since the formation of the Union of South Africa for a period of more than a century. Legally they can now have the benefit of having their own division of the High Court right at their door step.
This will happen as soon as the construction of the two High Court Divisions in Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces has been completed. The construction of the Limpopo seat of the High Court is underway and will be completed by June 2014 while the construction of the Mpumalanga seat is expected to commence before the end of this year,” said President Zuma.
“Rigorous and urgent steps are therefore required to ensure that Justice does not remain the privilege of the rich but is a fundamental human right enjoyed by all our people. The Superior Courts Act is a step in this direction,” the President added.
The Superior Courts Act is intertwined with the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Act, which the President signed early in February this year. The latter Act, together with a host of apartheid legislation including the notorious Land Act of 1913 and the Group Areas Act of 1950 formed the bastion of the separate administration based on racial segregation.
The Superior Courts Act further enhances the administration of the magistracy by placing magistrates in every Division of the High Court under the control of the Judge President of the Division concerned.
Furthermore, the Act assigns powers and functions to the newly established Office of the Chief Justice which was established a separate state institution equivalent to a state department by a Presidential Proclamation in 2010. This affirms the Government’s commitment to the independence of the Judiciary.
President Zuma is expected to announce the commencement date of both the Superior Courts Act and the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Act which the President signed into law in February this year soon.