South African Courts Hierarchy

The courts that hold the responsibility of serving and administering justice are known as the civil and the criminal courts. The establishment of these courts in South Africa takes place under the Acts by Parliament and are listed in the South Africa Constitution. There are a total of 4 categories of courts in South Africa and these are the superior courts, the specialist courts, the lower courts and the military courts. Below is a description of the various courts as per their superiority and a brief of which category they fall in.

South African Courts Hierarchy

Constitutional Court

This is the highest court in the order of courts in South Africa. This court hears and works only on the appeals of constitutional issues, no other issues are discussed in this court.

Supreme Court of Appeal

The Supreme Court of Appeal falls next to the constitutional court and is the highest court which deals in all issue types. Though this court hears matters only of appeal, i.e. it is the court of last resort in this sense.

High Court

The High Court is divided in seven provincial segments each of which has jurisdiction over the respectively defined area. The names of the provincial high courts are-

  • The Eastern Cape Division
  • The Free State Division
  • The Gauteng Division
  • The KwaZulu- Natal Division
  • The North West Division
  • The Northern Cape Division
  • The Western Cape Division

There are two other divisions which are under the process of being established. The high courts mentioned above have jurisdiction over the areas defined and hear appeals from magistrate courts as well as cases that fall outside magistrate court jurisdictions

The Superior Courts

The Constitutional, the Supreme and the High Courts make for the superior courts in South Africa.

Magistrate Courts

This is the lowest level in the court system of South Africa and also courts for first instance in most cases except a few most serious crimes. The country is divided into about 350 magisterial districts and hence a magistrate’s court for each of these districts.

The criminal cases which do not fall under the jurisdiction of magistrate’s court are those related to murder, treason or rape. Also civil cases where fine is no more than R300, 000 can be tried in magistrate’s courts. Besides these district magistrate’s courts, there are also regional magistrate’s courts as the magisterial districts are grouped into regions.

There are also Chief’s and Headmaster’s Courts and Small Claims Courts. These together with the Magistrate’s District Court and Magistrate’s Regional Court make the category of Lower Courts in South Africa.

Specialist Courts

In specialist courts segment, the Labor Appeal Court is positioned similar to the Supreme Court that only hears appeals from the Labor Court. All other courts including- the Labor Court, Land Claims Court, Electoral Court, and Tax Courts enjoy statuses similar to that of High Courts in the respective fields.

Military Courts

The Courts of Military Appeals, the Senior Military Judge’s Courts and the Military Judge’s Courts make up the segment of Military courts in South Africa. Within the segment of military courts- the higher most authority is the Courts of Military Appeals followed by the Senior Military and the Military Judge’s courts.