The most recent development in South African law is the introduction of its constitution. Other important developments include the exchange control developments to protect the country's foreign exchange reserves. In March 1995, the dual currency system was abolished to allow funds held in “non-resident' accounts to be freely transferable.
The constitution came into force in April 1994 and brings a Bill of fundamental rights, an independent judiciary and a constitutional court. All legislation in South Africa is now interpreted against it.
The Constitutional Court is given the power to overrule any Acts, or parts of any Act, which are in conflict with it and is binding on all other courts.
The concept of precedent is important in South Africa. This means judges will be bound by authoritative law covering the facts before them. Subject to the decisions of the constitutional court, the decisions of the Appellate Division are binding on all provincial and local divisions of the Supreme Court. Its decisions, in turn, are binding on the inferior or magistrates courts.
Trade mark law has also had a facelift in an attempt to bring the law more in-line with international moves.
The South African legal system is generally similar to that in the UK save that laws are interpreted against a backdrop of the constitution. But, in contrast to many of the European systems, it is a system based upon common law, statutes and precedent.
Carol Searle and Kathy Jarvis are assistant attorneys at Shepstone and Wylie UK.