Presenting your evidence in the small claims court Part 5
Proceedings in the small claims court are usually conducted in English and Afrikaans but you and your witnesses are entitled to give evidence in a language in which you are comfortable and certainly in any one of the official languages of the country. As soon as you know the court date and if you are giving evidence in a language other than English, contact the clerk of the court to ensure that on the day of the trial there will be an interpreter available for the language of your choice. You do not pay for the services of the interpreter as the States provides the interpreter. If your language is not an official language or an official language not commonly spoken in the town where the court sits, for example, French, it is unlikely that there will be an appropriate interpreter at the Court without prior arrangement. To avoid a postponement, contact the clerk of the court and make an arrangement for the attendance of the relevant interpreter as far in advance of your court date as possible. The interpreter should not have any relationship with any of the parties or witnesses.
The Commissioner (who acts like a Judge) should be addressed as “commissioner”. They are not “Your Ladyship”, “Your Worship”, “Your Honour” or “Your Holiness”. “Commissioner” is the title whether the commissioner is male or female. But do not worry too much about how you address the commissioner. Commissioners are used to being called all sort of names but, of course, not rude ones! At all times be respectful to the commissioner, your opponent and to your and their witnesses.
There is no particular dress code for the court but do dress to show to the Commissioner that you take both the court and your case seriously. You need not, for example, as a male wear a jacket and tie. However, arriving to defend yourself in a t-shirt, shorts and slops may suggest that you do not take the process seriously. At the same time dress comfortably. You do not want to sit in court distracted by new and scratchy clothes or shoes that are giving you blisters. In winter months be warmly dressed as it can be quite chilly in the court room.
Your dress and conduct should at all times maintain the dignity of the court. Do not swear or use any inappropriate or offence language or gestures.
You may be a little nervous when you first stand up to address the court. Being properly prepared with the comfort of having practised your presentation together with having the relevant documentation and witnesses present in court will assist in making your butterflies a mild flutter, rather than a frantic pounding, of wings.
My thanks to my fellow commissioners, Elizabeth Cardona and Tony Chappel for their constructive comments.
Donald is a long standing commissioner of the small claims court in Johannesburg. He is also a director at Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc.
Donald Dinnie Director Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc
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