The Deputy Judge President ("DJP") of the Johannesburg High Court issued a circular on 6 February 2024 urging legal practitioners to carefully consider their approach when seeking hearing dates. The Johannesburg High Court remains committed to delivering an efficient litigation service to the public.

While for most other matters, hearing dates are allocated within reasonable times, the lead times for the allocation of civil trial dates are unreasonably long. In some instances, trial dates for civil trials are allocated as far as three years. This long delay is attributable to the fact that the volume of cases set down cannot be heard sooner by the number of available Judges or Acting Judges. The DJP plans to convene a meeting with the leadership of the legal profession to address the issues implicated in such long delays.

According to the circular, the following is what causes the lengthy delays:

  • Matters that are not genuinely ripe to be set down for hearing are being set down for hearing, preventing other more deserving cases from being heard promptly. This results in a backlog, affecting availability of hearing dates for other cases.
  • Parties and their legal practitioners are not making genuine efforts to settle matters early which the DJP describes as a "blot on the profession".
  • The duration of cases are also not accurately estimated and there is a concern that exaggerated estimates are being provided, which then unfairly eats up the available slots for allocation. The DJP has called upon legal practitioners to cut down the expected duration of the case to what is truly in dispute which would save valuable court time for other litigants. In the circular, the DJP highlights that court time is a scarce and valuable resource and therefore a court endeavours to ration court time fairly.

Currently, the lead times to set matters down are as follows:

  • One to two terms from the moment of applying for a date for hearing for full court civil appeals;
  • One term from the moment of applying for a date for Magistrates' Court civil appeals;
  • Three terms from the moment of applying for a date for an opposed application;
  • One to two terms from the moment of applying for a date for specially allocated applications;
  • Three months from the moment of applying for a date on opposed motion matters;
  • Two weeks from the moment of applying for a date for the special interlocutory roll;
  • One week for the settlement court roll;
  • For Road Accident Fund ("RAF") default judgment applications, the lead time is two months from the moment of the application being delivered;
  • For RAF trials, it is three years from the moment of applying for a date;
  • For other civil trials, the lead time is about twenty months from the day of applying for a date;
  • For matters on the commercial trial roll, there are ad hoc set downs, but usually one term notice is required and for civil trials that are longer than five days, the lead time is one to two terms.

Legal practitioners have a duty to assist the court in its efforts to reduce these lead times.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.