In 1994, South African first democratic constitution established the Constitutional courts: the Interim constitution of 1993.Currently the court consists of eleven judges eight of whom are men and three women. It is headed by a Chief Justice and his/her Deputy. The decisions are made basing on the majority of judges. The President appoints the judges in consultation with Chief Justice, also with political party represented in National Assembly and should not be a member of parliament nor government or any political party. The second in command is Supreme Court which is the highest court of appeal apart from constitutional affairs. It currently headed by The President of the Supreme Court of Appeal. Its function is to hear appeals and it makes decision when the lower courts fail to make decision.
The next court in the hierarchy is The High Court. This is currently superior court of law in South Africa. It is headed by Judge President It operates basing on geographical jurisdiction and also hears appeals from Magistrate’s Courts. Found in every province.
The lowest court is The Magistrate’s Court. Currently South Africa is divided into 350 magisterial districts. The presiding officer is Magistrate. Its role is to deal with great majority of court cases.
The composition is as follows: Chief Justice of South Africa whose is the chief judge and makes topmost and last authority regarding the functions and management of courts. This post was established in 1910 after foundation of Union of South Africa having Sir John Henry de Villiers being the first Chief Justice of the Cape Colony (Van der Merwe 2004). The resident currently appoint whoever to sit on this post whereby after amendment in 2001 through Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Amendment Act 2001 the two posts; President of Constitutional Court and Chief Justice were fused into one post of The Chief Justice. The second in command of this judicial system is Deputy Chief Justice, followed other judges all appointed by the president.
Also, the judicial system is constituted by the President, Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal with its judges. This president heads this court which is the topmost appeal court in the constitutional matters approved by Constitutional Court. Supreme Court of Appeal was formed after freedom from apartheid era in 1994.It also succeeded Appellate Division of the initial Supreme Court of South Africa which was in function before independence.
The judiciary also is composed of Judge-President, Deputy Judge President who heads the High Courts which includes its judges for every high court. The Judge-Presidents head these High Courts. The lowest judiciary structure before the judges presiding in courts established by Act of Parliament are the Regional and district magistrates of the lowest court called Magistrate’s Court whose functions were described above.
The distinction between South Africa’s Judicial system from USA’s,Canadian and Great Britain's is that; it is a national system which extends to local and domestic level compared to the latter which is a Federal judicial system spanning over several states and islands (Morton, 2002). US has two separate and distinct systems; federal system; which enforces laws and interprets constitution applying to US; and The Court System of several States
Also judicial systems in these countries/states are independent of other organs of the government like legislature and executive where as in South Africa, it functions alongside consultations with these organs.
Another major distinction common with US system is how it is divided into circuit basing on states whereby the same law doesn’t necessarily apply in all states. The main similarity is the existence of Courts of appeal in these countries; also these states have as mentioned court system of states whose structure resembles South African. As a contrast between South African judicial system and the Federal system bring some distinctions on the structure between the two systems. To begin with is Supreme Court of U.S; consists of Chief Justice of U.S and eight associate justices, they usually hear few cases while the South African has President of the Supreme court as the head (Baldwin, 2009).
Whereas the two systems share the structural hierarchy, the highest court in Federal system is the Supreme Court while in the South African; the highest court is Constitutional Court. U.S court of appeals has 12 federal circuits with nationwide jurisdiction hearing appeals from all states. U.S district courts are the trial courts.
In the context of Great Britain, the judicial/law system also is divided into three legal systems unlike the South African system. The three systems are English law used in both Wales and England; Northern Ireland law used in Northern Ireland and the Scot law used In Scotland .These laws are applied in judicial system as follows; the highest court is Court of Justice followed by House of Lords then Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, Crown Court, Magistrate Court, High court then County courts (Burton, 2007). In general the distinctions of these systems is brought about by the structure, flow of command and the geographical applicability
Lastly, most of the judicial units share names for example Supreme Courts, District/magistrate court courts which in the two systems perform trials, Appeal and also the functionality are the same as described earlier. The South African judicial system is perfect example true just system that meets the needs of the people. Though South Africa suffered a long period of apartheid regime, they have manage to come system that is simple, meets the needs of the common man at the grassroots level and a system whereby the judiciary carry out it mandate in consultation with the executive and the legislative arms of the government. No perfect judicial system but constitution should strive at achieving one near to perfection by mainly curbing corruption which may intertwine a proper judicial system.