Understanding the Small Claims Court

Following a listener's complaint about small claims court judgment that was appealed and was then, according to him, declared null and void, leaving him with no option but to go to civil court.

John Maytham decided to get some expert advice.

Advocate Pieter du Rand, Chief Director: Court Services at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development chats to John about the way the small claims courts works.

He says there is no appeal process and is not sure how this happened. With regard to the listener's complaint, he suggested the person contact him and try and resolve the matter.

He suggests the plaintiff may not have understood the process.

Any person that was not part of the original small claims case can ask that the judgment against him be reconsidered.

Advocate Pieter du Rand, Chief Director: Court Services at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development

But, if all parties were present and argue their case, then there should be no appeal, he insists. The only way that can be taken on review to a higher court is if there was something done procedurally incorrectly.

He explains that a judgment is usually given by the commissioner of a small claims court of any claim below R15 000.

If the defendant does not deal with the judgment adequately, the plaintiff can then go to the magistrate's court and say the order has not been dealt with and ask for an order of execution and the magistrate's court can do that.

It's a relatively easy thing. You transfer the matter to the magistrate's court and the clerk of the court assists you in that regard.

Advocate Pieter du Rand, Chief Director: Court Services at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development

The small claims courts do not have jurisdiction to enforce the execution of an order.

The clerk of the court will draw up an affidavit stating the amount due in terms of the judgment and that the payment has not been made. A copy of the judgment is attached. This is taken to the relevant magistrate's court and warrant of execution is executed.

This is then usually enforced by the sheriff.

About 300 000 cases go through the small claims court countrywide, he estimates.

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