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?
- Where are the Equality Courts?
- How do I make an equality complaint?
- How long will it take for my complaint to go to court?
- What's a direction hearing?
- What will happen at trial?
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.
- Hate speech.
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 there are still equality issues after the labour court has finished with the matter, you can then approach an Equality Court to look at those remaining issues.
The Equality Courts are in the same building as the Magistrates' Courts. Each court in the Western Cape has a clerk called an Equality Court Clerk whose 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.
Please note: All forms, in the 11 official languages, that you will need during this process can be found here.
Go to your nearest Magistrate's Court and speak to the Equality Clerk, who will assist you in filling in a form (Form 2). This details your complaint and notes the details of the person against whom you’re making the complaint (called the respondent). You must have at least a name or the address of the person; otherwise, the matter won’t be able to proceed.
Within 7 days of taking your complaint, the clerk must notify the respondent of your complaint (Form 3). The respondent then has 10 days to submit a reply to your complaint (Form 4). Respondents don’t 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 Presiding Officer within 3 days.
The Presiding Officer has 7 days to decide whether this is a matter which the Equality Court should deal with or if it should be referred to another forum, such as the SA Human Rights Commission or Labour Court. If the matter is diverted to another forum, the whole file must be copied to them, and they will have to deal with this matter quickly. If they fail to resolve the matter it must be referred to the court with a report.
If the Presiding Officer 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.
The Presiding Officer will establish:
- What’s not in dispute (what you and the respondent agree on).
- Explain to the parties what’s going to happen.
- Appoint lay assessors if necessary.
- Determine if an interpreter is needed.
- Set a date for trial.
The clerk will subpoena both you and the respondent to attend the trial. The respondent must attend this trial. If the respondent doesn’t attend, this is contempt of court, and the usual warrant of arrest will be issued. The court can make a default judgement in the respondent's absence.
If the respondent does attend, 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 several "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’ve not been forced into signing it.
Stand and defend your right to equality booklet is available here.