Law Societies’ Presidents commit to a clean, ethical and responsive legal profession

April 25th, 2016
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Compiled by Barbara Whittle

From left: President of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, Anthony Millar; President of the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society, Lunga Peter; and President of the Cape Law Society, Ashraf Mahomed. Deidré Milton was absent.

From left: President of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, Anthony Millar; President of the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society, Lunga Peter; and President of the Cape Law Society, Ashraf Mahomed. Deidré Milton was absent.

In a joint press release on 11 April, the presidents of the four statutory law societies – Ashraf Mahomed of the Cape Law Society; Lunga Peter of the Kwazulu-Natal Law Society; Deidré Milton, of the Law Society of the Free State; and Anthony Millar of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces committed themselves to a clean, ethical and responsive legal profession. They stressed that they would do all that was necessary in the interest of the public and clients.

‘We understand that while much has already been done to achieve this, more needs to be done to ensure effective access to a fair legal process, particularly in regard to the investigation of complaints by members of the public, court officials and the legal fraternity in a fair, independent and impartial manner,’ they said.

The presidents referred to recent numerous disturbing media reports regarding the unprofessional and/or unethical conduct of certain members of the law societies. In noting the reports, they wished to assure the public and the media that the cases are being dealt with in the appropriate manner. They said: ‘The cases are complex and investigations are at a sensitive stage where the law societies may not be at liberty to readily share information in response to media queries. This simply means that in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation and ensure the protection of the rights of all concerned, we may be constrained to comment in the media at that particular time.’

They emphasised their commitment to ensuring a transparent and accountable legal profession and would provide information where this was appropriate and in the public interest.

The presidents explained: ‘The law societies perform regulatory functions in nature, which include taking disciplinary steps against their members that are found to be in breach of the Attorneys Act [53 of 1979] and Rules. No member of the legal profession is beyond the law societies reach or influence. The investigations are conducted strictly in accordance with the rules that govern the law societies and may result in action being taken against members.’

They pointed out that the consequences of these interventions are very serious, and therefore, the law societies are obligated to ensure that the investigation process is fair to all concerned. In many cases the investigation takes longer to be concluded than is expected. This may happen, for instance, when the outcome of separate civil or criminal court proceedings is required so as to ensure that complaints are dealt with holistically.

‘Members of the public are encouraged, if they have complaints against members of any of the law societies, to contact the relevant provincial law society where that member is practising and they will be given information and guided on the process to be followed,’ the presidents concluded.

Compiled by Barbara Whittle, communication manager, Law Society of South Africa,barbara@lssa.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (May) DR 19.