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The magistrates' courts are the lowest level of the court system in South Africa. They are the courts of first instance for most criminal cases except for the most serious crimes, and for civil cases where the value of the claim is below a fixed monetary limit.
South Africa is divided into magisterial districts, each of which is served by a district magistrate's court and in some cases also branch courts or periodical courts. Districts are grouped together into regional divisions served by a regional court, which hears more serious cases. At present there is one regional division established for each province, and the regional court sits at multiple locations throughout the province. As of 2010[update] there were 384 districts (and thus 384 district courts), 18 subdistricts with detached courts, 79 branch courts and 235 periodical courts. There were 1,914 magistrates including 351 regional court magistrates.
In criminal matters a district court has jurisdiction over all offences except treason, murder and rape, and a regional court has jurisdiction over all offences except treason. A district court can impose a fine of not more than R120,000 or a prison sentence of not more than three years, while a regional court can impose a fine of not more than R600,000 or a prison sentence of not more than 15 years, except that for certain offences a regional court can also impose a life sentence. In civil matters a district court has jurisdiction where the value of the claim is R200,000 or less, while a regional court has jurisdiction where the value of the claim is between R200,000 and R400,000. A regional court also has jurisdiction over divorce and related family law matters.
Cases in which no magistrate's court has jurisdiction must be brought before the High Court, which has the inherent jurisdiction to hear any case. The High Court also hears appeals from the magistrates' courts, and cases in which the constitutionality of any law or conduct of the President is brought into question.
The following towns are seats of magistracy, hosting a district magistrate's court or a detached court of a subdistrict. Regional courts for criminal cases may sit at any of these locations, but regional courts for civil cases sit only at those highlighted in bold text.