oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - Circuit courts in the Cape Colony during the nineteenth century : hazards and achievements
The circuit courts established by the Earl of Caledon in 1811 introduced the fundamental features characteristic of proceedings at common law to the Cape and thus constitute an important precursor to the Charters of Justice of 1827 and 1832. They also paved the way for the circuit courts established in 1827 under the First Charter of Justice, the predecessors of the circuit courts which to this day form part of the legal landscape in South Africa. During the nineteenth century, judges of the Cape Supreme Court regularly visited outlying towns and districts to hear both civil and criminal cases. The circuits lasted for weeks and long distances were travelled under primitive and hazardous conditions. The judges and counsel often had to endure great physical hardship. They all stuck to their task with commendable tenacity and perseverance. In the circumstances, the contribution of the Cape judges to the development of South African law and to the survival of the Roman-Dutch law was a remarkable achievement. The circuit courts brought to the outlying districts the administration of justice at the highest level. The sittings of the courts were open to the public, and the community participated in the proceedings by way of jury service. All this contributed to the integration of the administration of justice into the social fabric and "judicial conscience" of the people in the outlying communities. The circuit courts played a major role in entrenching the English procedural and judicial style in the minds of the people, and in bringing home the message that the courts were open to all the people of the colony, and that the protection of the courts extended to all of them.
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