All constitutional matters are dealt with by the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, which is situated in Johannesburg.
The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, the successor of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Courts of South Africa was created by the Constitution of 1996. According to the Constitution –
- it functions only as a court of appeal
- it may decide any matter on appeal and,
- it is except for constitutional matters, the highest court of appeal
It is composed of the President and Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal and a number of judges of appeal determined by an Act of Parliament. The Supreme Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear and determine an appeal against any decision of a High Court.
Decisions of the Supreme Court of Appeal are binding on all courts of a lower order, and the decisions of the High Courts are binding on Magistrates’ Courts within the respective areas of jurisdiction of the divisions.
Whereas previously the head of the Appellate Division was the chief justice, this is no longer the case. The Chief Justice of South Africa is now located in the Constitutional Court.
The seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal is at Bloemfontein. Provision exists for a session of the court at some other place when by reason of exceptional circumstances it is expedient to hold its sitting there. Its process runs throughout the Republic and its judgments and orders have effect and are executed in the areas of other divisions as if they were original judgments or orders of these divisions.
The Court sits in panels of five or three Judges, depending on the nature of the appeal. The composition of the panels differ for each case. The senior judge on each panel presides in that case and decides which judge is to write the judgment (or opinion) of the court. There may be more than one judgment in each case if there is a difference of opinion. The decision of the majority is the decision of the Court. Judges and counsel are robed in court.
If you are interested in some of the other courts in our court system, here are some informative links: