The extension was concluded in Pretoria, South Africa where Switzerland’s ambassador to South Africa, Christian Meuwly and the country’s Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, signed the agreement, which will see the partnership extended to December 2015.
The Small Claims Courts are a powerful mechanism to provide access to justice to the people of South Africa, especially the poor. They settle disputes of civil matters up to CH 1’140/ZAR 15’000 in value. They are fast, do not require legal representation with its implied cost and are therefore a very important and effective way in which poor people get access to justice. Improving access to justice for all and enhancing the rule of law have been critical priorities for South Africa and consequently, in the last two decades, specific initiatives were undertaken to extend this access.
“The Small Claims Courts project has been a resounding success from the Swiss perspective, because it managed to catalyze the department’s objective to increase access to justice to poor and previously disadvantaged people. Beyond this final support from Switzerland, the project will continue to function as it is now fully integrated in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development,” said Ambassador Meuwly.
“Switzerland appreciates that in the past three years, the emphasis of the Government of South Africa has been to establish new small claims courts in townships and rural areas where most vulnerable people live and who, for a number of reasons, were denied access to justice in the past,” he said.
The agreement, which has been implemented in two phases from 2007 to 2015, with a total financial support of CH 990`000 (ZAR 13 million) , is aimed at improving the functioning and efficiency of the small claims courts.
There currently are 331 courts throughout South Africa, and with the extension of the agreement, Switzerland will contribute to the establishment of additional small claims courts, train more clerks and Commissioners, enhance their visibility to further increase public access.