Garnishee order ruling described as victory for poor

The Constitutional Court ruled that such orders can only be issued by a court in an area where a debtor lives.

A judge's gavel. Picture: RSC Inc.

CAPE TOWN - In what's been described as a victory for poor, indebted people, the Constitutional Court has ruled that emolument attachment orders can be issued only with judicial oversight.

The court has also ruled that such orders can only be issued by a court in an area where a debtor lives.

The Constitutional Court was ruling on a judgment made by the Western Cape High Court last year that found parts of the Magistrates Court Act were inconsistent with the Constitution because there was not sufficient judicial oversight in the issuing of garnishee orders.

The case arises from an application by the University of Stellenbosch legal aid clinic on behalf of 16 Western Cape farmworkers.

One applicant was Stellenbosch farmworker and sole bread-winner Vusumzi Xekhetwana, who, after deductions, received a net pay of just over R1,200.

Court papers show that his signature was forged on some of the documents that the creditor used to obtain an emolument order against him for a debt incurred with SA Multi Loan.

Both the Western Cape High Court and Constitutional Court heard of similar plights of 15 other low-paid workers from the province who had large amounts deducted from their wages for loans.

Although the Constitutional Court did not find the Magistrates Court Act to be constitutionally invalid, it ruled that the act should be amended to ensure that from now on there is judicial oversight to any emolument order that is granted.

A court must also be satisfied that the emolument order is just and equitable and that the amount is fair.