CASE IN POINT | Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
Bringing Justice Services Closer to You
As of 1 December 2014, communities in Gauteng and North West province started to travel shorter distances to access services at courts. This has come about as a result of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development having embarked on a process of rationalising the magisterial districts in order to align them with municipal boundaries.
Essentially, this means that the scope of the areas served by each of the 384 magisterial districts has now been realigned with municipal boundaries so as to ensure that these areas serve communities that are closer to them, thereby bringing justice closer to the people. The aim is to shorten the long distances travelled by communities to access courts and to reduce the costs incurred. Moreover, this programme seeks to redress the racially based judicial boundaries under apartheid where courts were established mainly in affluent areas, while historically disadvantaged areas were serviced by under resourced and dilapidated courts.
How will the rationalisation of magisterial districts benefit you?
Every person or community will be able to access justice services provided by a Magistrate’s Court within their own municipal area and therefore in their vicinity. In respect of metropolitan areas and large municipalities, more than one magisterial district, or sub districts of a district, will be established to alleviate bottlenecks in respect of cases at one court.
A Regional Court will be eligible to use a district court, Sub district Court or Branch Court as its seat so that people will not have to travel outside their municipal areas to access the services of a Regional Court, such as in the case of divorce and criminal matters. This will ensure that Regional Courts, in particular courts which are dedicated to special cases such as Sexual Offences Courts, will be within reach of local communities.
There will be a seat for a division of the High Court in each of the nine provinces so as to ensure that communities are able to access the services of a High Court in the province in which they are resident. The construction of the Limpopo and Mpumalanga seats of the High Court, a process which is currently under way, is part of this reform process.
Local seats of a division of the High Court will be established with a view to decentralising the services of a High Court to communities that live far away from the main seat of a division in a province.
District Courts throughout the coun-try will be adequately equipped to serve as circuit courts of the High Court in a province to ensure that cases are tried as close as possible to local communities. Courts in Gauteng and the North West province will be affected immediately, and the roll-out to other provinces will commence in 2015.
For example, in terms of the old magisterial boundaries, the Diepsloot community had to travel to the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court to access justice services, which is a distance of about 40 kilometres. However, with the rationalisation process, the Diepsloot community will now be serviced by the Randburg Magistrate’s Court, which is about 15 kilometres away.
What does the rationalisation project aim to do?
The rationalisation project aims to achieve the following:
Align the jurisdiction of magisterial districts with municipal boundaries. As a result of the project to rationalise the courts, magisterial boundaries drawn up before 1994 are being redrawn in accordance with the new democratic dispensation.
Enable communities to access justice services closer to where they live and thus reduce travelling costs.
Why was it necessary to undertake the rationalisation project?
Access to justice is a basic human right provided for in the Constitution. The main aim of the process is to broaden access to justice by having a court in every municipality and a seat of the High Court in every province.
At a district level, the areas of jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Courts will be the same as that of municipalities to the extent that this is practical and possible.
New courts will be built in areas of need and existing courts will be assigned adequate jurisdiction to respond to the needs of the communities they serve.
Has there been consultation concerning this process?
Affected communities in the North West province and Gauteng, as well as the judiciary, prosecutors, the police and municipalities, were consulted.
How will the process affect High Courts in my area?
The new magisterial districts will form the basis of new areas of jurisdiction of the High Courts in all provinces. Changes to the jurisdiction of the High Courts in Gauteng and the North West province will remain the same until April 2015.
How will I know which court to use?
The Department has informed affected communities of the changes to the magisterial districts. Maps showing the areas of jurisdiction of the new magisterial districts will be placed at all courts. If you are not sure, go to the local court or visit: for more information.
Which areas are most affected by the rationalisation project?
This is how access to justice will change for communities in the following areas:
Hammanskraal: Kanana, Kekana, Mandela and Renstown
Bramley Portion East of the M1
Jericho, Bethanie and Bapong
Ga-Rankuwa sub district
Ga-Rankuwa sub district
All new cases placed on the roll as from 1 December 2014 in Gauteng and the North West province will be dealt with in accordance with the newly proclaimed areas of jurisdiction. Other provinces will be subject to the same process from April 2015, starting with Limpopo and Mpumalanga.