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South African Law

South African Court Hierarchy

The South African courts are:

  • The Constitutional Court
  • the Supreme Court of Appeal
  • the Electoral Court (same status as the Supreme Court of Appeal and subordinate only to the Constitutional Court)
  • the High Courts (also operating as Equality Courts & Divorce Courts)
  • the Magistrates' Courts (decisions of these courts are not reported) (also operating as Equality Courts & Divorce Courts)
  • Specialist Courts that operate at the level of the High Court. These are:
    • Tax Courts
    • Labour Courts and Labour Appeal Courts
    • Court of the Commissioner of Patents
    • Land Claims Courts
    • Competition Courts
  • Military Courts

A detailed history and background of the court system in South Africa can be accessed on the Supreme Court of Appeal's website.

The Constitutional Court was established in 1994 and heard its first case in 1995. By virtue of s 167(3)(b) of the Constitution, the Constitutional Court is South Africa's (i) highest court on constitutional matters, and (ii) highest appellate court on any other matter, if the Court grants leave to appeal. Please note that sub-section 3 was inserted by s 3 of the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Act, 2012. Until this time, the Supreme Court of Appeal was the highest court on all except constitutional matters, and the Constitutional court could only decide constitutional matters. The Supreme Court of Appeal 's role is now, by virtue of s 168(3) of the Constitution as amended by the Seventeeth Amendment Act, to decide appeals in any matter arising from the High Court or a court of a status similar to the High Court, except in respect of labour or competition matters. Its decisions may now be appealed, with leave, to the Constitutional Court. The information on the role and functions of the Constitutional Court on the Constitutional Court's website is out of date, does not incorporate these changes and should therefore be read with caution. Up to date and correct information on the role of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal is available on the Supreme Court of Appeal's website