Civil Litigation – An Overview – Civil Law

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Litigation is the process of bringing a legal dispute to court. Civil disputes are usually between two or more parties and take place in a public forum. This process is formal and highly regulated. The whole matter is in the public domain to anyone, including the press, with access to the documents that are filed as part of each party’s case. However, the courts have the discretion to order that the proceedings be confidential.


The court where the action or demand is brought must have jurisdiction over the case to hear it. Jurisdiction is established when the cause of action arose in the area where the defendant resides or is domiciled in the area of ​​that court.

There is a hierarchy of courts in South Africa:

  1. The Constitutional Court,

  2. The Court of Cassation,

  3. The High Court,

  4. Courts of first instance.

The procedure generally begins with a formal notice stating the claimant’s request and indicating a date by which the other party must adhere to this request.

If the other party does not comply with this request, the plaintiff may bring a civil action either:

Take action

This procedure is used in cases involving a factual dispute. It involves both the plaintiff and the defendant making submissions to the court, producing evidence (by exchanging relevant documents and involving witnesses who testify orally) and ends in a trial. The action is started when a summons with particulars of the claim has been issued out of court and served on the defendant.

Launch an app

This procedure is generally faster, but can only be used in the absence of a factual dispute. All documentary evidence on which a party wishes to rely must be attached to the affidavits submitted to the court. This process is initiated once the following documents have been issued out of court and served on the respondent:

  • a notice of motion setting out the relief sought by the plaintiff; and

  • a witness statement in the form of an affidavit.

In conclusion, various factors must be taken into account during the first stage of the litigation process.

Originally published on April 19, 2022

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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Case summaries


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