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What is the difference between the Magistrates’ Court and the High Court?

What is the difference between the Magistrates’ Court and the High Court?


The South African Civil Courts are divided into the Magistrates’ (lower) Court and the Higher Courts. Which court you will use depends on the type of claim, where the negligence or dispute occurred, where the parties to the claim live and the amount claimed. A claim brought in the wrong court risks being dismissed and the party bringing the claim in the wrong court may be requested to pay the other party’s legal costs.

To read more about the different Courts in South Africa Click Here

Magistrates’ Courts

The Magistrates’ Courts, being our lower courts, can hear both civil and criminal matters but deal with less serious matters than the High Court. The Magistrates’ Court can further be divided into the District Court and the Regional Court. The Magistrates’ Court has divisions within it that each deal with a specific type of matter such as children or maintenance. Criminal matters can be heard in the Magistrates’ Court. The state prosecutes people for breaking the law through prosecutors appointed by the National Prosecuting Authority.

The District division of the Magistrates’ Court cannot try a person for murder, treason, rape, terrorism, or sabotage. This court can sentence someone to a maximum of 3 years imprisonment or a maximum fine of R100 000. They also cannot deal with certain matters, such as divorce, arguments about a person’s Will, and matters where they have to determine a person’s sanity or competence/capacity to represent themselves.

The District Court can hear claims with monetary value from R0 – R200 000. While the Regional Courts can hear a matter with the monetary claim from R200 001 – R400 000. If your claim in is above this R400 000 threshold, then you may be able to institute your claim in the High Court. These figures are determined by the government and published in the Government Gazette. This is why claims for serious injuries due to road accidents or medical negligence are made in the High Court.

The Gazette with the Magistrates’ Court Jurisdictions can be found here:

High Courts (Previously known as Supreme Courts)

The High Courts decide on more serious matters. They can decide on any case which is too serious for the Magistrates’ Court or when a person appeals a case that was decided in the Magistrates’ Court. The High Court usually hears any matter involving a person’s status (for example, adoption, insolvency, etc.). The most serious criminal matters are heard in the High Court.

In the High Court, only Attorneys and Advocates who have a special right of appearance may represent clients in their cases. The fees paid for High Court matters are higher than in Magistrates’ Court cases, in most cases, this is because the matters in the High Court are more complicated and would require special legal experience.

There are currently fourteen provincial divisions of the High Court situated in the different provinces, and they are listed below:

  • Gauteng Main Division seated in Pretoria with the Local Division in Johannesburg;
  • Kwa-Zulu Natal Main Division seated in Durban with the Local Division in Pietermaritzburg;
  • Eastern Cape Main Division seated in Grahamstown with the Local Divisions in Bhisho, Mthatha and Port Elizabeth;
  • Limpopo Main Division seated in Polokwane with the Local Division at Thohoyandou;
  • Mpumalanga Main Division seated in Mbombela with the Local Division in Middelburg;
  • Free State Division seated in Bloemfontein;
  • Western Cape Division seated in Cape Town;
  • Northern Cape Division seated in Kimberley; and
  • North West Division seated in Mahikeng;

If you need to claim compensation for loss of income, ability to work or medical expenses due to disability or serious injury, you should contact a litigation attorney to advise you on your options and which court would be suitable to your needs.


Click here to view Article 1a – Different Courts and Different Types of Cases