Jurisdiction has been defined as “the power or competence which a particular court has to hear and determine an issue between parties brought before it” (Graaff-Reinet Municipality v Van Ryneveld’s Pass Irrigation Board 1950 (2) SA 420 (A)). A court cannot give judgment in respect of matters where it does not have the necessary jurisdiction.

A key consideration in the determination of whether a particular matter should be brought in the District Court or the Regional Court is the value of the claim in question. Section 29 of the Magistrates’ Court Act 32 of 1944 (“the Magistrates’ Court Act”) provides that the District Court and the Regional Court can only consider claims below certain thresholds published in the Government Gazette. This can be referred to as the “monetary jurisdiction” of the court.

The current limits are R 200 000.00 for the District Court and R 400 000.00 for the Regional Court. Accordingly, a District Court can only consider claims of less than R 200 000.00, whereas a Regional Court can consider claims of less than R 400 000.00. Claims of R 400 000.00 and more fall beyond the jurisdiction of the Regional Court and must be brought in the High Court.

However, section 45 of the Magistrates’ Court Act provides, notwithstanding the provisions of section 29 of the Magistrates’ Court, that parties may consent in writing to the jurisdiction of a District Court or Regional Court to hear matters which would otherwise be beyond their respective jurisdiction. Accordingly, parties may consent to the monetary jurisdiction of the District Court or the Regional Court in terms of section 45 of the Magistrates’ Court Act notwithstanding the value of the claim.

It should be noted that the parties’ ability to consent to the jurisdiction of the District Court or the Regional Court in terms of section 45 of the Magistrates’ Court is not unfettered, and is subject to the limitations in section 46 of the Magistrates’ Court Act. Generally speaking, section 46 of the Magistrates’ Court Act provides that certain matters are completely beyond the jurisdiction of the District Court or the Regional Court by reason of the nature of such matters. For instance, a District Court or Regional Court can never have the jurisdiction to rule on the validity or interpretation of a will, and any attempt by parties to consent to the jurisdiction of the District Court of the Regional Court in terms of section 45 of the Magistrates’ Court Act for such matters would be void and of no effect.

Parties should accordingly take care when entering into written agreements to ensure that subsequent claims which may arise from such agreements are brought in the correct court. Claims which are brought in the wrong court can result in the claim being dismissed and would lead to wasted legal costs. It should be noted that a consent to jurisdiction in terms of section 45 of the Magistrates’ Court Act must be in writing and cannot be made orally between the parties.