Legal Talk: Types and Jurisdiction of South African Courts

South Africa has a number of different types of courts. Which court you approach or will hear your case will depend on the case.


Courts       Jurisdiction
Constitutional Court
  • The highest court on all constitutional matters.
  • Matters are referred to it from the Supreme Court of Appeal or the High Court.
  • Certain constitutional matters are reserved for exclusive jurisdiction of this court.
  • It is seated in Johannesburg and matters are heard by at least 8 judges.
Supreme Court of Appeal
  • The highest court of appeal in respect of civil and criminal matters, excluding constitutional matters.
  • It is not a court of first instance, it only hears matters from the High Court. 
  • It is seated in Bloemfontein and matters are heard by 5 judges.
High Court
  • Currently consists out of 15 divisions.
  • A court of first instance and can be a court of appeal for the Magistrate’s Court or High Court.
  • Attends to civil and criminal matters and matters involving a person’s status.
Magistrate’s Court
  • Consists out of District Courts and Regional Courts. There are about 500 District Courts.
  • The District Courts have jurisdiction over minor criminal matters and civil matters up to R 200 000.00.
  • The Regional Courts have jurisdiction over family matters like divorces, maintenance, custody matters and civil matters between R 200 000.00 - R 400 000.00.
Small Claims Court
  • Can only hear claims instituted by natural persons against natural or juristic persons; not the State.
  • Its jurisdiction limit is currently R 15 000.00.


Special Courts  
Labour Court and Labour Appeal Court
  • Labour Court – same status as the High Court. Exclusive jurisdiction in respect of all matters in terms of the Labour Relations Act and any other labour law.
  • The Labour Appeal Court – same status as the Supreme Court of Appeal. Final court of appeal in respect of judgments and orders made by the Labour Court.
Divorce Court
  • Previously there were three stand-alone divorce courts, but they now form part of the regional divisions of the Magistrate’s Court.
  • The regional division of the Magistrate’s Court hears divorce matters on certain days of the week.
  • Both the Regional and High Court can deal with divorce matters.
Competition Appeal Court
  • Status of the High Court.
  • It reviews or considers an appeal against any decision of the Competition Tribunal (the Tribunal adjudicates restrictive practices, abuses, or dominant positions and mergers).
Electoral Court
  • Status of the High Court.
  • Review any decision of the Electoral Commission relating to an electoral matter and appeals against decisions of the Electoral Commission.
Children’s Court
  • Every Magistrate’s Court is a Children’s Court and shall have jurisdiction on any matter arising from the Children’s Act.
  • The High Court is the upper Guardian of the all children who are below 18 years of age.
Maintenance Court
  • Every Magistrate’s Court is a Maintenance Court (district level) and shall have jurisdiction on any matter arising out of the Maintenance Act.
Equality Court
  • Hears matters relating to contraventions of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.
  • Every Magistrate’s Court and High Court are also an Equality Court.
Income Tax Court
  • Hearing income tax appeals of persons dissatisfied with decisions made by the commissioner for SARS where the dispute involves an income tax assessment of more than R1 000 000.00.
  • Tax disputes involving an assessment of less than R1 000 000.00 go to the Tax Board.
Land Claims Court
  • Status of the High Court.
  • Exclusive jurisdiction determining the right to restitution of any land in accordance with the Restitution of Land Right Act, to determine issues of compensation in respect of the appropriation or acquisition of such land.
Court of Chiefs and Headmen
  • Status of the Magistrate’s Court.
  • Hears customary issues in respect of customary law by an authorised chief headmen or deputy.
Military Court
  • South African National Defence Force is subject to the jurisdiction of Military Courts.
Child Justice Court / Juvenile Court
  • Child justice system for children.
Sexual Offences Court
  • Children or victims get the necessary respect, care and support in respect of sexual offences.
Commercial Crime Court
  • Hears commercial crime cases.


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