BLA marches to voice dissatisfaction on legal work distributed by government

September 1st, 2017
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Members of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) during their protest at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The BLA members staged a protest in July demanding that President Jacob Zuma give direct orders to government departments, government entities and municipalities to issue briefs and distribute legal work to black lawyers and female lawyers.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) called on President Jacob Zuma to establish a judicial commission of inquiry on the root cause of why government departments, government owned enterprises and municipalities continue appointing white male legal practitioners above their black and female counterparts. This according to the BLA, despite the presence of legal framework that requires government entities to prefer women and black legal practitioners.

BLA members staged a protest at the Union Buildings led by BLA President, Lutendo Sigogo, in July, before handing over a memorandum of grievances to the representatives of the president’s office. The BLA said President Zuma must facilitate coordination of distribution of all government legal work through one central office, preferably the solicitor general, which will record and keep statistics of all issued instructions or briefs.

The BLA further said President Zuma should give directive to all government departments, government owned enterprises and municipalities, to issue briefs and distribute legal work in line with the provisions of the economic empowerment legal framework. Companies and municipalities should have their own coordinated and distinct methods and mechanisms to award legal work to the legal practitioners.

Black Lawyers Association (BLA) President, Luthendo Sigogo, addressing the members of the BLA during the organisations protest at the Union Buildings at Pretoria in July.

Mr Sigogo said the BLA knew that the Office of the State Attorney deals with a limited quantity of state legal work and the instructing of state departments holds the unfettered prerogative to appoint the counsel of their choice. He pointed out that by law the Office of the State Attorney is not designed to give instructions to attorneys but only to advocates. He added that it is common course that government pays more legal fees to white male legal practitioners, than it does to black and female legal practitioners.

Mr Sigogo pointed out that it seemed that government believed that white legal practitioners are more competent than their black counterparts. ‘This is a myth, this belief disregards the fact that black and white legal practitioners receive similar legal training from university level though their profession oriented apprenticeship,’ Mr Sigogo said.

The BLA said that as black legal practitioners they draw claim for quality and empowering legal work from, among others, following legislative legal frame work namely –

  • s 9(2) of the Constitution;
  • s 217 of the Constitution;
  • the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act 5 of 2000 (as amended); and
  • the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act 53 of 2003 as amended.

The BLA submitted a memorandum with the following demands:

  • The president is to establish a judicial commission of inquiry on the root cause why state departments, state owned enterprises and municipalities continue to appoint white male legal practitioners above their black and female counterparts notwithstanding the presence of legal framework, which requires them to prefer women and black legal practitioners.
  • President Zuma to facilitate coordination of distribution of all state legal work through one central office – preferably the solicitor general – which will record and keep statistics of all the issued instructions and/or briefs. Such statistics will record the type of work, value of the instruction or brief, gender and race of the recipient.
  • President Zuma to give directive to all state departments, state owned enterprises and municipalities to issue briefs and to distribute legal work in line with the provisions of the economic empowerment legal framework.
  • President Zuma to direct all state owned enterprises and municipalities to sign the Law Society of South Africa Briefing Patterns Protocol and direct all state departments to adhere to the same.
  • The State Attorney Act 56 of 1957 be amended in order to empower the state attorney to appoint private law firms to carry out legal services on its behalf.
  • All state departments, state owned enterprises and municipalities to provide the BLA with the following information –
    • list of the panel attorneys and date of appointment of such panel; and
    • schedule of the legal work distributed/briefs issued in the ensuing 12 months. This schedule is to reveal the names, gender and race of the legal practitioner, type of legal work and the total fee paid.

Following the BLA’s protest, the Presidency issued a statement that said that, President Zuma had directed the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, to attend to the concerns raised by members of the BLA during their protest. ‘We take the concerns raised by the Black Lawyers Association very seriously and we genuinely understand their concerns. In this regard, I have directed the Minister of Justice and Correctional Service to look into the challenges raised by the association and give me a report,’ President Zuma said.

‘We also encourage all arms of state and all spheres of government to prioritise and empower black lawyers, particularly women. The legal fraternity is one of the key sectors that we are targeting as part of our radical socio-economic transformation programme in order to correct the uneven and unequal racial and gender representation in key sectors of our society and in the economy,’ President Zuma added.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

 This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Sept) DR 9.

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