Small Claims Courts

Description:

The small claims courts deal with minor civil claims of up to R15 000 in a speedy, affordable and simple manner without using an attorney. Small Claims Court

If you want to, you can get legal advice before going to court. Legal assistants and clerks of the small claims courts will assist you for free.

Companies cannot approach the small claims courts to settle disputes.

Any of the official languages can be used in the court and the case is not heard by a judge or magistrate, but rather by a commissioner, who hears each side of the story and asks questions.

Decisions of the small claims court cannot be appealed, however, if you think that the commissioner was biased or unfair, you can ask to have the case reviewed.

Instructions:

Steps to follow

  • Step 1Contact the other party
    Contact the opposing party (the person against whom you are instituting legal proceedings) either in person, in writing or telephonically and request them to satisfy your claim.
     
  • Step 2: Write a letter of demand
    If the opposing party does not satisfy your claim, send them a written demand setting out the facts on which the claim is based and the amount you are seeking.

    Deliver the written demand by hand or registered post to the opposing party. Give the opposing party 14 days from the time they receive your letter to settle your claim. 
     
  • Step 3Go to the clerk of the court

    After 14 days report to the clerk of the court with the following documents:
  • Proof that the written demand was delivered, such as a Post Office slip.
  • Any contract, document or other proof upon which your claim is based or that is related to it.
  • The full name and address (home and business addresses, if available) and telephone number of the opposing party. 
    Using the small claims court
  • Step 4: A summons is sent to the opposing party
    The clerk of the court will examine your documents and help you draw up the summons.  The clerk of the court will issue the summons and hand it to you to hand to the opposing party.  The clerk of the court will also inform you of the date and time the case will be heard in court. 
     
  • Step 5Delivery of the summons 
    Serve the summons on the opposing party in person and have them sign for the document.  The plaintiff (you) will need to make copies of the summons, letter of demand and return of service. The copies must be served on the opposing party (otherwise known as the defendant).

    The plaintiff must deliver the original summons and return of service to the clerk of the court as soon as possible before the hearing to ensure the information is kept in the court file.

What might happen between Step 5 and 6

a) Possible steps by the opposing party after receipt of the summons:

• The defendant may comply with the plaintiff’s claim.
• The defendant may deliver a written statement (plea) to the clerk of the court and send a copy to the applicant.
• The defendant may issue a counterclaim by delivering a written statement that contains the same details as those needed for a summons to the clerk of the court.
• If a plea or a counterclaim is instituted, the court proceedings must still be attended.

b) What do you do if opposing party has satisfied your claim?

• Issue a written receipt immediately
• Inform the clerk of the court that your claim has been settled and that you are no longer proceeding with the case.

  • Step 6The hearing
    • You must appear in court in person.
    • Ensure you have all the relevant documents on which your claim is based with you.
    • Make sure that all your witnesses are present.
    • Ensure that you have the written proof that the summons was served on the opposing party.
    • The court procedures are informal and simple.
    • No advocate or attorney may appear on your behalf.
    • The commissioner of the court will ask you to state your case.
    • State the facts as concisely as possible.
    • Answer the questions of the commissioner and submit your documents upon which your claim is based.
    • No cross-examination between the parties is allowed. With the commissioner’s permission you may, however, put a few questions to the opposing party.
    • Listen carefully to the opposing party’s explanations and inform the commissioner of any facts you believe haven’t been presented accurately.
    • After the commissioner has heard you, your opposing party and any witnesses that may be present, the court can pass judgment. The commissioner may also indicate that judgment will be passed in writing at a later stage.
  • Step 7After judgment has been given
    In case judgment is given against you
  • The judgment of the court is final, unless some ground for review exists.
  • Settle any order for costs that the court may make against you. The only possible costs can be those that the opposing party may have had in respect of fees for the sheriff.
  • Abide by the decision of court.

Cautionary principle for persons using the small claims courts:

Small claims court

If you intend instituting a claim in the small claims courts, ensure that the opposing party is able to compensate you should the judgment be in your favour. It is pointless to institute a claim against another person who is unemployed and who possesses no property.

What matters are excluded from the jurisdiction of the small claims court:

  • Claims higher than R 15 000 in value.

    Note: If the claim is more than R15 000 you can still institute a claim in the small claims courts for an amount up to R15 000. However, you will have to abandon the part of the claim exceeding R15 000 which means that that part of the claim will be cancelled completely. You cannot split a single claim into two or more separate claims so that each one does not exceed R15 000.
     
  • Claims against the State (including the municipality/local government).
  • Claims based on the cession or the transfer of rights.
  • Claims for damages in respect of defamation, malicious prosecution, wrongful imprisonment, wrongful arrest, seduction and breach of promise to marry.
  • Claims for the dissolution of a marriage.
  • Claims concerning the validity of a will.
  • Claims concerning the status of a person in respect of their mental capacity.
  • Claims in which specific performance is sought without an alternative claim for payment of damages, except in the case of a claim for rendering an account or transferring movable or immovable property not exceeding R15 000 in value.
Provided At: These facility categories:
Provided by:
Government Body: (The Government of South Africa)
The content on this page was last updated on 14 May 2015