South Africa has a unified judicial system. The Supreme Court has a supreme appellate division and provincial and local divisions with both original and appellate jurisdictions. The Court of Appeals, with its seat in Bloemfontein, the judicial capital, normally consists of the chief justice and a variable number of appellate judges. Special superior courts may be constituted to try security cases, and there were, in 1986, 309 magistrates' offices vested with certain judicial as well as administrative powers. Judges are appointed by the state president. There were no nonwhite judges as of 1987.
The common law of the Republic of South Africa is Roman-Dutch law, which has evolved from the uncodified law of the Netherlands as it existed when the Cape of Good Hope was ceded to Great Britain. It has been influenced by English common law in procedures more than in substantive matters. Trial by jury was abolished in 1969.
Black tribal chiefs and headmen have limited jurisdiction to hear cases in traditional courts. There are appeals courts, divorce courts, and children's courts for blacks. In self-governing black homelands, lower courts have been established by the legislative assemblies.
The judiciary has moved in the direction of more independence from the other branches with instances of alleged political interference with courts on the decline. Prospects have considerably improved for nonwhite law school graduates to receive "Articles of Clerkship" which qualify them for admission to the bar.
A new constitution went into effect partially in February 1997, with complete implementation scheduled for 1999. The 1994 interim constitution provided for an independent judiciary and the authorities respect this provision in practice. There is also a constitutional court as highest court for constitutional issues. It provides for due process, including the right to a fair, public trail, legal counsel, and the right to appeal.