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About This Website

This website, compiled by retired legal journalist Bert van Hees, of Cape Town (Bellville), was launched on 22nd February, 2005, as the only small-claims website at that stage, pertaining to the South African system.

The website explains the small-claims system itself, and offers foolproof tips on how to use it successfully - or how to avoid the disappointment of losing.

The website seeks also to educate users of the small claims system about the law, by way of easily understood explanations, where necessary, as footnotes to the small claims highlights.

With sparkling, and entertaining humour, the highlights focus also on the human dramas that unfold in the Small Claims Courts, as feuding parties cross swords about anything from dog bites to family squabbles.

This website is dedicated to the very few community-minded members of the legal fraternity (advocates, attorneys and legal academics) who selflessly offer their time - often under most trying circumstances - to act free of charge as small-claims commissioners (judges)

With legal expertise, they adjudicate cases with such ease that disputes that may seem complicated and without solution to those involved, suddenly become simple and straight forward.

This website is a tribute to them, and seeks to encourage others not serving the system, to do so.

About the Small Claims System

The aim of the small claims system itself is first and foremost to make justice - a costly commodity - accessible to those who cannot afford litigation in the ordinary civil courts

The Western Cape , where the author lives, boasts a substantial legal fraternity but, sadly, only a few members are willing to support the small-claims system.

Among the unwilling are those who lament that they are "too busy", while others argue that justice is necessarily expensive, involving expertise, months of pre-trial preparation and long hours - if not days or weeks - in court. They feel that the prompt decisions of the Small Claims Courts often amount to "rough justice".

Fortunately, the dedication and commitment of the few who support the system has ensured the astonishing success of a popular system that may otherwise have fizzled out long ago.

Essentially, the system is a Court of Equity, aimed at fairness and inexpensive, prompt justice.

If both parties to a claim are present in court, each is given an opportunity to present his or her case (without the aid of a lawyer). The commissioner also questions them, in order to establish the facts, and to make a fair decision - indeed, to avoid "rough justice"

The system is strictly for the use of private individuals, and Sect 7 of the Small Claims Courts Act (no. 61 of 1984) specifically excludes access, as Plaintiff, to "juristic persons" such as public and private companies, CCs, Bodies Corporate etc. Access is also denied to Trusts.

The system is open to everyone else, including business partnerships that are not registered as juristic persons, or sole-proprietorships such as Tom Jones who trades as Tom the Plumber – the system is even open to attorneys in practice as partnerships.

I hasten to add, however, that, although not barred outright, the system does frown on business persons who use it for the cheap recovery of debt.

Thus, business persons with multiple claims against bad debtors, should lodge one claim at a time, rather than in batches.

A brickbat

In the Golden Days of some 10 to 15 years ago, competent staff were appointed permanently to the small-claims administration, and standards were high.

In those days, litigants could rely on the advice of trained and experienced personnel, who turned away litigants with invalid claims, and ensured that such claims were not even placed on the roll.

Alas, the system that worked so well has in recent times been replaced by one involving staff-rotation, in which proficient staff are moved on to other sections, to be replaced by personnel with no knowledge or experience of small claims matters.

While staff-rotation does have its merits, it has no place in the small-claims system, where adequate personnel and high standards are essential at all times.

My emails in 2008 to the Top Brass in the Justice Department, to prevent the transfer of Lynette Davids from the Cape Town Small Claims Courts, were to no avail. I was informed that a senior official would respond to me, but that did not happen, and Lynette has since been moved.

From the many calls and emails that I have received from visitors to this website since its inception, it seems that the problems caused by staff-rotation are not confined to the Cape .

If this website helps to fill that gap, then I have succeeded in my purpose.