The applicants included farmworkers, security guards and cleaners, who live in Stellenbosch and support themselves and their families with a salary of between R1200 and R8000 a month.
“I am really happy about it,” Senior Counsel Odette Geldenhuys for the applicants said.
It is a positive when Legislation concerning the poor is addressed in court, as the “poor makes up the majority of the country”, she added.
“The applicants are relieved because the court has granted them relief.”
In his judgment, Judge Siraj Desai said: “The suggestion that a debtor would willingly agree to an EAO (Emolument Attachment Orders) in terms of which almost half his salary is deducted monthly, is far-fetched and simply incapable of fair minded support…
“The reduction of a low earning debtor’s income has a direct impact on his right to shelter, health and family life.”
Important questions about protecting human rights of the poor and vulnerable, had been raised in the case, according to the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
“The case was instituted by against the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Trade and Industry, the National Credit Regulator, 13 micro-lenders and a firm of attorneys,” spokesperson Isaac Mangena said.
“Prior to this judgement, EAOswere issued in the Magistrate Courts to compel employers to deduct moneys (installments in terms of judgment debt) owing to creditors, from the wages of employees. This continued until the full amount of the debt was paid off. Such orders, were issued by a clerk of court. The clerk was not obliged to evaluate the implications of the order on the livelihood of the debtor. This meant that there was no judicial oversight in the entire process. The orders could also be issued in courts where the debtor did not live or work.”
Wednesday’s judgment therefore declared the granting of such EAOs “unlawful and therefore unconstitutional”.
“The SAHRC welcomes the fact that the Department of Justice, as one of the respondent’s in the case, has undertaken to abide by the Court’s decision. The judgment must result in timely legislative reform to correct this situation.”
The judgment further affirmed an affirmation of the “vision of our constitutional democracy”, he added.