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Cape Town - Western Cape equality courts, set up to provide an easy legal recourse for people to address issues such as racism, hate speech, discrimination and harassment, are crying out for work.
The provincial Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is concerned about the poor flow of cases being reported at equality courts throughout the province.
In the past seven years, 46 equality courts were established at magistrate’s courts across the province and at the Western Cape High Court.
The department said there were only 31 cases pending at all the equality courts in the province, most of which related to hate speech and discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and HIV status.
Conceding that there was a poor utilisation of the courts, the head of the Western Cape Justice Department, Hishaam Mohamed, said they had embarked on a drive to educate the public on the benefits of the equality courts.
“It is unfortunate that these equality courts are not utilised to their full potential. Every month statistics are collated from the designated equality courts through our national operations centre. However, it transpired that there are some courts reporting ‘nil’ returns every month.”
He added that the poor utilisation might be because of low awareness among members of the community.
According to the Justice Department, equality courts had the power to provide a suitable remedy to the victims of any unfair discrimination and harassment.
This was done via a court order against the offender to make a public or written apology, and/or pay the victim compensation for the unfair treatment.
Mohamed said many people, particularly in rural areas, experienced the infringement of their dignity and human rights but were not aware that there was a court that could deal with the matter, with no court fees needing to be paid.
He said the only cost involved was the person’s own, such as paying the sheriff for serving the documents on the other party unless the presiding officer decided against it.
“There is no need to have legal representation in order to bring the matter before the court. The complainant goes to the court and the clerk of the equality court will assist in completing the necessary forms, whereafter it is referred to the presiding officer,” Mohamed added.
He said currently 86 clerks and 48 magistrates and judges were dealing with equality court matters throughout the province.