The South Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg
The Johannesburg high court, known officially as the South Gauteng High Court, was established in 1996, when the Constitution was adopted in a “new” South Africa. It is one of 13 high courts in the country and certainly one of the most historically significant in terms of the cases it has seen and the people who have walked through its doors. Some of the country’s most prominent cases have been through the court, including the Jackie Selebi trial. Selebi, the former national commissioner of the South African Police Service, was found guilty of corruption in 2010.
The court is located on Pritchard Street in the Johannesburg central business district, and the square surrounding it has seen many an eager journalist, as well as hosts of demonstrations and protests. The building itself was designed by Gordon Leith and built in 1911. It originally housed the supreme court before it became the official base of the high court.
The area surrounding the court was given a much-needed makeover in 2008 and R15-million was fed into the project, run by the Johannesburg Development Agency. The idea was to revamp the high court precinct and, according to the official Joburg website, “make the public environment worthy of the beautiful high court building itself”.
The statue outside the high court building is of Carl von Brandis, the mining commissioner in 1886 and Johannesburg’s first magistrate. Von Brandis, the work of sculptor David MacGregor, looks westwards, facing the mine dumps where gold was first discovered in Johannesburg.
In South Africa, high courts are considered superior courts of law, and high court decisions are considered binding on magistrate’s courts, which fall within their geographical jurisdiction. The high court only deals with serious criminal cases, civil cases that involve more than R100 000 and appeals from lower courts.
Because Gauteng is the commercial and governmental hub of South Africa, it is set to be an exception to the Superior Courts Bill, which will streamline the court system by merging the high courts in each province into single court “seats”. The South and North Gauteng high courts will remain because of the heavy caseload of the area.
The South Gauteng High Court is not open as public entertainment, but open for viewing.