Unfortunately, civil disputes are a fact of daily life; accounts are left unpaid; reckless drivers smash into parked cars and neighbours are forced to cut down thorn bushes that have encroached upon their lovely lawns. What is perhaps more unfortunate is the cost of legal advice and civil litigation.
Anyone who has been slighted in one of the instances above may think that it is not worth their while to approach a lawyer. And in most cases they would be right. The costs of litigating in these matters far outweighs the possible benefits.
In 1985 the Small Claims Court was established in order to address this particular problem. The State needed a way to increase access to just outcomes in small civil disputes.
As of 1 April 2015 if the amount in dispute is R15 000.00 or below, it will qualify as a small claim that can be brought before the court. And if the Plaintiff’s claim exceeds R15 000, the Plaintiff can surrender the difference in order to bring it within that limit.
No legal representatives are permitted in the court hearings. The Plaintiff, the person bringing the claim, and the Defendant are on their own. In this way costs are kept to a minimum.
The presiding officer is known as a commissioner. The position is unpaid and is ordinarily filled by a lawyer as a way to meet their mandatory community service hours.
For a more in depth discussion on the the small claims court and the process see Bert van Hees’ full article.