How to find a divorce lawyer in Cape Town, South Africa

Missing Court files

Many attorneys feel that the Department of Justice is incompetent, as court files sometimes go missing. As a result of this clients often suffer when they have done nothing wrong.

I was reading an article recently where an attorney complained that he had a trial where after the matter had been postponed, the court file suddenly went missing before the next hearing. The attorney therefore had no record of the evidence that had been led.

There had apparently also been cassettes in the court file and they also had gone missing. Whilst the attorney could open a duplicate file, some original documents had been handed in at court, and therefore no duplicates could be made of those documents.

As a result of all of this, the client had clearly been prejudiced. Fees for advocates who had been used also had to be paid. This attorney himself had outstanding fees, and also had incurred the fees of a correspondent. And now the court file had gone missing.

I have experienced similar problems with court files going missing at court. The court file basically contains all of the court pleadings in it e.g. the summons, notice of intention to defend, defendant's plea and counterclaim, plaintiff's plea to defendant's counterclaim and notice of set down.

The court file is never allowed to leave the court building. Attorneys and members of the public may uplift the contents of the court file if they wish to make copies of it. Usually a form must be filled in stating when the contents of the file will be returned.

If the file goes missing, usually a duplicate file can be opened. However, as experienced by the attorney above, it is not possible to have a duplicate made of cassettes, for example, which have been placed in the court file. So opening a duplicate file does not always help.

The court files are usually stored away in a certain room at court. The only people who can collect the files are the Registrars or Clerks. Attorneys have to work through the registrars to gain access to the files. There are so many files that many of the older files are stored in the "archives" at the court. These are usually more difficult for the registrars to find.

The court file only has to contain the court pleadings. Letters between attorneys do not have to be included in the court file. The court file is very important as that is the file that the Judge or Magistrate has before him or her at the hearing. Attorneys have to ensure that the court file is in order before the court date by putting it in number order with an index, so that the Judge can read it like it is a book. If it is not in order, the Judge will not even hear the matter. And rightfully so.

The court file usually also has handwritten notes on the inside of the file cover by the presiding officer indicating what happened at each appearance, and if that case was postponed, to what date it was postponed. The Magistrate or Judge is not the same each time and this allows a new official to see exactly what happened on the previous appearance. It also reminds the Judge if presiding again in the same matter, of what happened previously.

There are so many files at court that it is not possible always to keep every single one of them in the correct place. Files often get misplaced. People are human. However I have to agree with many attorneys out there who ask the question as to why clients should suffer when files are misplaced by the officials at court.


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