Equality Courts

Description:

Equality Courts are courts designed to deal with matters covered by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000, also known as the Equality Act.

 

WHAT MATTERS ARE HEARD IN THE EQUALITY COURTS?

You can approach an Equality Court with any complaint about:

  • Unfair discrimination
  • Publication of information that unfairly discriminates
  • Harassment
  • Hate speech.

However, if your complaint involves your job or applying for a job, then you must first approach a labour court or forum such as the CCMA. If after the labour court has finished with the matter there are equality issues that have not been addressed, you can then approach an Equality Court to look at those remaining issues.

Bear in mind also that only complaints about incidents that occurred after 16 June 2003 can be brought to the Equality Court. So you can't, for example, bring complaints relating to apartheid times to the Equality Court.

Instructions:

WHERE ARE THE EQUALITY COURTS?

The Equality Courts are housed in the same building as the Magistrates' Courts. Each court in the Western Cape has a clerk called an Equality Court Clerk who has been trained to help the public with any equality matters. If you phone or go to your nearest Magistrates' Court with an equality complaint you should ask to speak to this person. If you cannot get help on an equality matter at your Magistrates' Court then you should phone the Equality Co-ordinator, Nico Geldenhuys on 084 951 0461 to report this.

The Clerk will take down your complaint and forward it to the nearest Equality Court Magistrate. There are currently four courts in the Western Cape that have Equality Court Magistrates. These Courts are known as "Equality Courts" and are in Atlantis, George, Kuilsriver and Worcester.

If your complaint proceeds to a hearing stage the matter will be heard at the nearest "Sitting" court of the Equality Court. This means that the Equality Magistrate will travel from the Equality Court to this Sitting court if it is closer to the court where you made your complaint. The clerk will tell you which court that will be in your matter.

HOW DO I MAKE AN EQUALITY COMPLAINT?

Go to your nearest Magistrate's Court and speak to the Equality Clerk, who will assist you in filling in a form that details your complaint and notes the particulars of the person against whom you are making the complaint (called the respondent). You must have at least a name or even better the address of the person; otherwise the matter will not be able to proceed.

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE FOR MY COMPLAINT TO GO TO COURT?

The clerk must, within 7 days of taking your complaint, notify the respondent of your complaint. The respondent then has 10 days to submit a reply to your complaint. Respondents do not have to reply if they don't want to. The clerk must send you a copy of the respondent's reply within 7 days. The clerk must then send all the information to an Equality Court Magistrate within 3 days.

The Magistrate then makes a decision on whether this is a matter which the Equality Court should deal with (whether the court has jurisdiction) or whether it should be referred to another forum, such as the Human Rights Commission or Labour Court. The Magistrate must make this decision within 7 days. If the matter is diverted to another forum, the whole file must be copied to that forum, which has two months to prepare a progress report on the matter.

If the Magistrate decides that the Equality Court should hear the matter, then the clerk must set a date for a preliminary hearing, called a "direction hearing", within 3 days of the Magistrate's decision, and then notify both you and the respondent of the time, place and venue of this hearing.

WHAT IS A DIRECTION HEARING?

At this hearing, the Magistrate 'gives directions', which is why it is called a direction hearing. This means the Magistrate will establish what is not in dispute (what you and the respondent agree on), explain to the parties what is going to happen, appoint lay assessors if necessary, and set a date for trial. The respondent is not obliged to attend the direction hearing, but it would probably be in the respondent's interests to do so.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT TRIAL?

The clerk will subpoena both you and the respondent to attend the trial. The respondent must attend this trial. If the respondent does not attend, this is contempt of court, and the usual warrant of arrest will be issued. Furthermore, the court can make a default judgment in the respondent's absence.

However, if the respondent does attend, then the matter is heard according to the standard of proof that applies in a civil trial. This means you must prove your case on a "balance of probabilities", not "beyond reasonable doubt" like in a criminal trial. A lawyer can represent you, but anyone you would like to help you at the hearing can also represent you - they don't have to be lawyers.

If the court finds in your favour, there are a number of "remedies" you can ask the court to grant. These can be an order for:

  • An unconditional apology
  • An instruction to the respondent to do or not do something, or restraining an unfair discriminatory practice
  • Payment of damages to you for actual financial loss, loss of dignity, or pain and suffering (including emotional and psychological suffering)
  • Payment of a fine to an appropriate organisation
  • A declaratory order.

The court can also confirm any settlement you might have reached with the respondent. The court will check that this settlement is fair and that you have not been forced into signing it.

Provided At: These facility categories:
Provided by:
Government Body: (The Government of South Africa)
Price:

There are no court fees in the Equality Court.

However, each party in an Equality Court matter must pay their own costs, unless the court decides otherwise. Witnesses called are entitled to ask for R100 per day, which fee must be paid by the party calling the witness, unless the court decides that the state should pay.

The content on this page was last updated on 8 October 2013