S. African president launches first provincial high court in judicial reform
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday launched the country's first provincial high court in Mbombela, Mpumalanga Province, as part of efforts to reform the judicial system.
"This court represents a new era for the citizens of this province who have travelled a long and difficult road to get access to justice," Ramaphosa said at the launch ceremony.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. [File photo: VCG]
Until now, citizens whose matters fell outside the jurisdiction of the local magistrate's courts had to obtain relief in the High Court in Pretoria.
For over a century, the Mpumalanga province was tied to the High Court in Pretoria under a provision established by the apartheid regime.
This caused considerable inconvenience, delays and financial hardship, Ramaphosa said.
"Today we are opening a court that will administer justice without fear or favor, in an open and accessible process that reflects the ethos of our Constitution," he said.
The government has promised that every province in this country will have a fully-fledged, well-resourced and capacitated high court in line with the provisions of the Superior Courts Act of 2013.
"We are here today to fulfill that promise," the president said.
South Africa, he said, is committed to the advancement of human rights, of which the right to equality before the law, to equal protection of the law and benefit of the law, forms a critical part.
It is, however, not enough that such a right is merely prescribed, Ramaphosa said.
"For it to be given full effect, we must endeavor to broaden access to the law," he said.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa has prioritized the reform of its judicial system to rid it of barriers to access to justice.
Amongst these are the costs of obtaining legal representation, linguistic accessibility as well as accessibility for people with disabilities, lengthy delays and case postponements, backlogs in the court roll, and people having to travel long physical distances to reach courtrooms.
"These administrative reforms have been necessary because they have corroded confidence in the judicial system," Ramaphosa said.
The provincial high court will hear civil and criminal matters and serve the local people who no longer have to incur huge travelling costs to have their legal matters heard, the president said.
It will also play a formative role in ensuring access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence, he said.
This court, together with other courts around the country, will be sufficiently resourced to expand the provision of services for women and children that respect their dignity and privacy, according to Ramaphosa.