A simple guide to legal costs in South Africa

legal costs
03 Apr 2020

We offer a straightforward guide to the different types of legal costs in South Africa, including whether you’ll recover the costs if you win your case.

If you need legal representation and are concerned about costs, this may help clarify what’s involved.

What legal costs will I recover if I win my case?

Typically, a South African court orders the losing party in a case to pay the legal costs of the successful party. However, this won’t include the successful party’s full costs.

Instead, the recoverable costs are determined according to a fixed tariff schedule. This schedule will differ depending on which type of court hears your case.

Also, some types of attorney costs won’t be included in the total costs that are recoverable.

Court tariffs in South Africa

Court costs depend on which type of court – a Magistrate’s Court or High Court – hears your case.

Which type of court will hear your case

Regional Magistrates’ Courts hear civil claims valued below R400,000.

Cases involving claims above this value, as well as criminal cases involving murder, rape or treason, are heard by a High Court.

Tariffs for Magistrates’ and High Courts

The tariffs for Magistrates’ Courts and High Courts differ. They’re both set according to specific rules in the Rules of Court.

The costs for Magistrates’ Courts fall into one of four categories, or scales – from A through to D. Scale A allows the lowest proportion of legal costs to be recovered, while Scale D allows the highest.

Legal costs awarded by a High Court usually include advocates’ fees. Costs awarded by a Magistrate’s Court don’t, unless a judge specifically orders that they be included.

Three main types of legal costs

In South Africa, the key types of legal costs include:

  • party and party costs
  • attorney and client costs
  • attorney and “own” client costs.

So-called attorney and “own” client costs aren’t awarded by the courts. These are costs you’ll need to settle with your attorney even if you win your case.

You’ll recover the other two types of legal costs only if a court awards these, and they’ll be subject to the standard court tariffs.

Party and party costs

Party and party costs are the costs most frequently awarded in court cases.

They include costs of attendances between your attorney and the other party’s attorney.

Party and party costs won’t include legal costs you incurred before a summons or notice of motion was issued and served. They relate only to costs associated with an actual court case.

They also don’t include the costs of attendances between you and your attorney.

Attorney and client costs

If you’re awarded attorney and client costs, it means you’ll recover party and party costs plus certain other legal costs. These can include costs for attendances between you and your attorney.

Attorney and client costs aren’t usually awarded by South African courts.

They may be awarded in some situations – for example, if:

  • a contract specifies that the costs are payable in the event of a dispute
  • a court believes that a punitive costs order is warranted.

Attorney and client costs are subject to the same tariffs as party and party costs.

Attorney and “own” client costs

Attorney and “own” client costs are the fees you pay to your own attorney. They depend on the agreement you have with the attorney.

In South Africa, many personal injury attorneys work on a “no win, no fee” basis – meaning that fees will be payable only if you win your case.

Personal injury claims with DSC Attorneys

If you may have a personal injury claim, DSC Attorneys’ expert attorneys and medico-legal team can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings.

Legal costs in South Africa can be significant. We believe that everyone has the right to experienced legal representation and access to justice. For this reason, we work on a no win, no fee basis.

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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