New civil courts roll-out

2010-09-04 00:00

DIVORCE is likely to be cheaper in the new regional courts being rolled out countrwide to specialise in divorce actions and civil disputes involving amounts up to R300 000, according to acting KwaZulu-Natal regional court president Fred Heuer.

He said the twofold purpose of the new courts, which came into operation on August 9, is to enhance access to justice for the public and to promote the development of judicial expertise among the ranks of magistrates.

In KwaZulu-Natal these courts will sit in Durban, Empangeni, Port Shepstone, Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle and Vryheid.

They will be served during the first-year transitional phase by three regional civil magistrates initially appointed in an acting capacity. Likely candidates in KZN are Pietermaritzburg attorney Jennifer Anthoo, Ladysmith advocate Mauritz Randlehoff, Durban regional court magistrate Sam Luthuli and Richards Bay regional court magistrate Logan Naidoo.

Heuer said the new regional courts are being rolled out in terms of the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Act.

They will give people the option of getting divorced in the high court or the regional court, which is likely to be less costly.

Not everyone agrees with this view, however.

A legal source said attorneys and advocates are unlikely to alter their fees just because a case is heard in the regional court, and that undefended divorces would cost the same. He added that in complex opposed matters people would probably choose to have a high court judge adjudicate the issues.

Heuer said regional magistrates who preside in the new civil and divorce courts will also have the opportunity to gain the experience they need to qualify for appointment as judges.

Experience in criminal, civil and divorce matters is a prerequisite for anyone aspiring to judicial appointment.

He added that magistrates will undergo training for the civil and divorce courts at the recently established Judicial Education Institute in Johannesburg to get their accreditation.

Legal practitioners with at least five years’ experience in civil and divorce matters automatically qualify.

Heuer explained that the new Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Act amended the old Magistrate’s Court Act of 1944 to confer jurisdiction on regional courts in respect of civil disputes as well as divorces that are currently regulated by section 10 of the Adminstration Amendment Act of 1929.

“The divorce courts that were established under section 10 had their origins based on race. They were initially only accessible to black litigants, although they were later opened to all races,” said Heuer.

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