Department of Justice holds dialogue with legal fraternity

May 30th, 2019

Former Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, spoke at the dialogue he hosted to engage with members of the legal fraternity. The dialogue was held on 10 April in Johannesburg.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Former Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, held a dialogue with members of the legal fraternity on 10 April in Johannesburg. Mr Masutha discussed challenges that legal practitioners face in South Africa (SA), as well as the role that government has played in ensuring a successful and transformative legal profession. He said one of government’s commitments to democracy was ensuring access to justice to the people of SA as enshrined in the Constitution. He pointed out that over the past 25 years government had announced a number of goals that it wanted to achieve, and he added that he was pleased to report that some of those goals had been achieved. One of the goals mentioned was that two new courts would be built per year.

Mr Masutha said at the end of the previous administration, 59 courts would have been built, to ensure that people in the rural areas did not have to travel far to seek access to justice. Some of the courts that have recently been opened include, the Sexual Offence Court at the Booysens Magistrate’s Court that was officially opened by President Cyril Ramaphosa, as part of the declaration he had made at the gender-based violence summit during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children in 2018. He added that there are no less than 88 Sexual Offence Courts in the country in response to the fight against gender-based violence in SA.

Mr Masutha has also pointed out that the justice portfolio has embarked on several transformation projects. He gave an example of having offices for paralegals in urban areas to render legal services to people who cannot afford legal fees. He said with regards to legal fees and tariffs, Justice Narandran Kollapen of the South African Law Reform Commission, has been appointed to lead a task team to review tariffs in the legal profession and to ensure equity and access to justice as required in the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (LPA).

Mr Masutha said government plays a significant role in litigation space by representing government departments and various other state entities through the state attorney’s office. He added, however, that not all legal work by or for the state is provided through the office of the State Attorney. He pointed out that a significant bulk of legal work is out sourced to legal practitioners by parastatals and some municipal metropolitans have their own legal representatives. Mr Masutha said at this stage the Department of Justice does not have full control over legal work.

Mr Masutha said there is a big challenge regarding the demographics of gender and race in the legal profession, as well as briefing patterns. He added that complaints were submitted to the department stating that government was not giving black legal practitioners and female legal practitioners work. Mr Masutha pointed out that his department had become suspicious as to why this was the case. He said an investigation was done and it was discovered that there has been collusion and corruption taking place with regard to the distribution of legal work. He noted that work was indeed given to some black legal practitioners, but it was based on favouritism.

Mr Masutha said the amount of money paid for work given out on corruption and collusion to legal practitioners who have a relationship with a government official amounted to billions of Rands. He, however, added that the amounts were not final as investigations are still ongoing to uncover the abuse that has been taking place. He pointed out that the Department of Justice has proposed that they corporatise state legal services by creating a separate entity that will develop the capacity for the state to become an efficient litigant using both in and outsourced legal practitioners.

During the question and comment session, member of the Black Lawyers Association and the Law Society of South Africa’s Young Lawyers Task Team, Nape Masipa, said when transformation is spoken about in the legal profession it is about black and white, but never about the young and old. He added that there are senior legal practitioners who oppress young legal practitioners. He pointed out that there are still candidate legal practitioners who earn as little as R 2 000 per month.

Mr Masipa also spoke about s 25 of the LPA that deals with the right of appearance of attorneys. He said that it states that for an attorney to appear at the High Court they need to have been practising continuously for three years. He pointed out that an advocate, once admitted, can appear in the High Court immediately. He said that the section does not entail the harmonising of the legal profession between attorneys and advocates.

Chairperson of the South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) in Gauteng, advocate Fezeka Magano, started by acknowledging and thanking Mr Masutha for developments regarding transformation. She said SAWLA has been observing the commitment and support to women in the legal profession. She added that SAWLA welcomed the inception of the Legal Practice Council (LPC). She noted that among other things, the LPC must deal with long standing issues of briefing patterns that remain a challenge. She pointed out that SAWLA has embarked on a campaign to engage different stakeholders in the legal profession to understand what the issue is regarding the briefing patterns. She added that there are statistics that show that briefs are being given to black legal practitioners, but on the ground, it does not reflect what the statistics are saying.

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