The small claims court (SCC) is for anyone who wants to institute a minor civil claim against someone else. You can also claim against companies and associations. However, the claims are limited to amounts that are less than R15 000. This excludes the State, meaning a person cannot make a claim against a local municipality, for example. Claims made in the SCC are done quickly and cheaply without having to use an attorney and anyone, except juristic persons, are allowed to use them.
Read more about the SCC on The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s website: justice.gov.za
Where do I start?
If you are going to institute a claim against someone else, be smart about it. Don’t make a claim against someone who you know has no money to pay you back, such as an unemployed person.
Before running to the court to make a claim, first contact the person you intend to claim from and ask them to fulfil your request. Let them know you are planning on going to the court to make a claim against them if they don’t comply.
Perhaps the person is not interested in your claim, then send them a written demand letter. The letter should set out the details of the claim, including the amount. Give them at least 14 days from the day of receiving your letter to settle your claim. Make sure they get an actual physical copy of the letter. This can be posted to them, or you can simply take it to them directly.
So 14 days has passed and they didn’t respond. Now you can go to the clerk of the court with documents to institute your claim. Firstly, you will need proof that you delivered the letter of demand. This can be a post office slip, for example. You will also need a contract or document that gives a basis for your claim. Your claims can’t just be based on thin air. Lastly, provide the court with all the details of the person you’re claiming from, such as name, address and phone number.
The clerk of the court will help you in drawing up the summons. Once the summons is complete a hearing will also be scheduled. You then have to serve the summons to the opposing party (defendant) in person and get them to sign it. Don’t be surprised if they are visibly upset. Remember to make copies of all the documents and keep them. Also give copies to the defendant. The original documents must be handed over to the clerk of the court before the day of the hearing. This information will be kept in the court file.
After they receive the summons, the defendant may deliver a plea (written statement) to the clerk of the court. They may also issue a counterclaim. Regardless of whether the defended institutes a plea or counterclaim, they still have to attend the hearing. On the other hand, the defendant may decide to fulfil your claim before the hearing, you should then issue a written receipt and let the clerk of the court know that you won’t be continuing with the case.
Going to the hearing
You and the defendant must appear in court in person, attorneys or lawyers are not allowed at the hearing. Remember to bring along all the documents on which your claim is based, there’s no point in showing up empty-handed. If you have witnesses, make sure they also come with you to the hearing. The SCC proceedings are basic and straight-forward. As mentioned, no attorneys are involved. As the proceedings begin, answer any questions that the commissioner of the court asks you. If you want and the commissioner agrees, then you can direct questions to the defendant.
The final judgment
After the proceedings have been completed, the court will make a judgement, which is final. There may, however, be some grounds for review. If the judgement is against you, then you should settle any order for costs. Since the court judgement is final, you have to abide by it. You can’t change your mind afterwards.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)