Pretoria: President Jacob Zuma today signed into law the Superior Courts Bill, which will restructure the judiciary and integrate the courts, while enhancing equal access to justice.
The Superior Courts Bill aims to consolidate all the laws relating to the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the High Court into a single piece of legislation.
It would establish a single High Court of South Africa. The bill was approved by Cabinet in December 2010. The thinking behind the bill flows from the Constitution, which calls for the rationalisation of the court system in order to conform to the requirements of the Constitution.
Until now, the country’s Superior Courts were largely structured in accordance with the Supreme Court Act of 1959 passed early on during apartheid rule.
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,” said President Zuma.
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.
He added that “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 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.
President Zuma is expected to announce the commencement date of both the Superior Courts Act and the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Act.