REGAL WELCOME: Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Andries Nel, left, and Gert Sibande district municipality’s mayor Khotso Motloung are surrounded by members of the Siyanqoba theatre group from Siyathemba township. Picture: FRANCE NYAKA
Attorneys and magistrates abandoned their regalia and joined Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Andries Nel when he officially opened the small claims court in Balfour on Friday.
Since its inception the legal institution has heard 16 cases, some of which related to money lending, burial society funds and lack of payment for services rendered.
The court’s services are easily accessible because the service of an attorney is not required – only the complainant and accused are entitled to debate during the hearing.
Those under the age of 18 are compelled to be accompanied by their parents or guardians to access the court.
The small claims court sits only on Thursdays and is facilitated by two attorneys who act as commissioners.
According to Nel, the court was proclaimed in June 2011 to serve the residents of the Dipaleseng local municipality, which consists of areas like Balfour, Grootvlei, Greylingstad as well as 21 farms in the municipality.
The official opening was also graced by the provincial regional court president Annette Engelbrecht, chief magistrate David Ngobeni, court operations director Nomkhosi Shenge and Gert Sibande district municipality’s executive mayor, Khotso Motloung.
Nel said the official unveiling of the legal institution brought the number of small claims court to 38 in the province, and 224 countrywide.
He also said the court was officially dedicated to the late freedom fighter Gert Sibande, the struggle hero who was famous for the 1959 Bethal potato boycott.
“The absence of the small claims court in this disadvantaged area, especially on the farms, used to deny the residents access to justice. The unveiling is part of the department’s mandate to respond to the services and needs of the people.
“The unveiling is officially dedicated to the tireless freedom fighter Gert Sibande, who also fought against the violation of farm workers,” said Nel.
Nel said the legal services were accessible once a week without legal aid.
“The services of the court are reachable because no representation by an attorney is required. The two parties involved are entitled to argue the case in front of an attorney acting as a commissioner.
“We will continue to open more small claims courts in rural areas to bring justice services closer to the people.”
Nel also said areas like Carolina, Mdutjana, KwaMhlanga and Mbibane do not have small claims courts and the department was working hard to extend service to such areas.
He also urged young people to consider legal careers.
Nel disclosed that the building of provincial high court was under way.
Gert Sibande mayor Motloung welcomed the opening of the small claims court in his district.
“The district municipality is happy about the court’s establishment because access to law should not be limiting.
“The poor also deserve to have justice in our courts,” said Motloung.
The regional court president, Annette Engelbrect, said: “The judiciary worked collectively with other stakeholders to make sure the court’s services become a reality for vulnerable. We are satisfied with the work done to make this a reality.”
• Balfour is the seat of Dipaleseng, one of seven local municipalities that make up Gert Sibande district.