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Moving court will hurt Grahamstown

21 Dec 2010

Grahamstown’s continued viability as a city in the Eastern Cape may be threatened if plans to move the High Court from this university town to Bhisho go ahead.

In terms of the Superior Courts Bill, the 140-year-old Grahamstown High Court will have to move to the same city as the provincial legislature and the local government.

Justices spokesperson Tlali Tlali says the reason for the move is to promote effective co-ordination of the justice system. Moreover, a reassessment of the jurisdiction area of each provincial high court will enable communities within all municipalities to have access to courts within their local areas so as to alleviate the difficulties of travelling long distances in order to get access to the justice system.

The legislation will affect all provinces but it is in the Eastern Cape where the changes are likely to have the most profound effects. In KwaZulu-Natal, the High Court is moving from Durban to Pietermaritzburg but the knock-on effect of this move is likely to be minimal for the city.

In Grahamstown the jurisdictional change will reduce Grahamstown’s sphere of influence from two million people to just 500 000 and this 75% reduction will mean that the high court is no longer viable and will atrophy.

A lobby group known as Circle Nine says that an impact assessment study shows that as the court declines, 400 direct jobs will be lost alongside a further 300 indirect jobs.

Circle Nine is advising the Grahamstown High Court Action Committee, a lobby group comprising 30 businesses and education, civil society, union and non-governmental organisations.

The high court employs the third-highest number of people in the city after Rhodes University and the Makana Municipality. This is expected to weaken the council’s revenue base.

While the costs of relocating the court to Bisho have not yet been confirmed, an independent assessment released at a stakeholder meeting held in Grahamstown last month estimated that it would be in the region of R250-million.

The amount apparently includes the costs of upgrading the provinces high courts with the greatest expenditure being incurred at the Bhisho and Mthatha courts. 

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Paddy Hartdegen

Paddy Hartdegen

Freelance columnist at

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