National Forum to propose separate voters’ rolls for attorneys and advocates for first Legal Practice Council elections

September 26th, 2016

By Barbara Whittle

The National Forum on the Legal Profession (NF) held its sixth plenary meeting on 3 September.

At the meeting, the NF continued to grapple with the rules for legal practitioners, the staffing and costs relating to the Legal Practice Council (LPC), as well as where provincial councils and committees will be located in the new dispensation.

The NF must make recommendations to Justice Minister, Michael Masutha, before 1 February 2017. It had agreed at its meeting in April this year to recommend nine provincial councils, as well as an additional six committees at each High Court seat where there is no provincial council, to the Minister (see 2016 (June) DR 22). At the meeting on 3 September, the committees were further defined when the NF agreed that each committee would comprise of two legal practitioners (an attorney and an advocate), a third legal practitioner nominated by the relevant provincial council, as well as two staff members. The purpose of the committees is to provide access to practitioners and to members of the public in places where there are no provincial offices or councils of the LPC.

As regards elections, some progress was made in that it was resolved that, for the first election of the LPC, there would be separate voters’ rolls for attorneys and advocates. Attorneys would vote for the ten practising attorneys on the LPC and advocates would vote for the six practising advocates. This would be reviewed after the first election when the LPC would consider whether there should be one voters’ roll.

The mechanics of how the elections would be conducted, how diversity and skills mix of councillors will be ensured and whether there is an opportunity in the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (the LPA) for a body such as an electoral college, will still be discussed. In the meantime the NF is researching elections in other jurisdictions, particularly in African jurisdictions.

Although the issue of foreign legal practitioners does arise in the NF discussions, the LPA makes provision that the Minister may, in consultation with the Minister of Trade and Industry and after consultation with the LPC, and having regard to any relevant international commitments of the government, make regulations with respect to foreign legal practitioners. It is, therefore, not within the scope of the NF to do so.

A three-person team – which includes attorneys Jan Stemmett and Lutendo Sigogo, as well as advocate Elizabeth Baloyi-Mere – was tasked to start drafting the submissions to the Minister.

Advocates Elizabeth Baloyi-Mere and Roseline Nyman were appointed to the NF earlier this year in the place of Dali Mpofu SC and Thami Ncongwane SC.

The subcommittees of the NF continue to meet regularly to deal with the tasks allocated to them.

The Administration and Human Resource Committee has commenced negotiations with the statutory provincial law societies for the transfer of staff and assets to the LPC.

The Rules and Code of Conduct Committee has drafted the Code of Conduct. Some of the issues being discussed include whether the rules relating to advocates with trust accounts should be aligned with those for attorneys rather than with those for advocates. One example is whether they should be permitted to charge a collapse fee.

After some consultation, the committee agreed that the Code of Conduct would state that all legal practitioners – attorneys and advocates – would robe in the lower courts in the new dispensation.

The Governance Committee is discussing provincial councils and committees, and the allocation of functions to these. It is also investigating elections and voting. This committee has a further subcommittee – the Costing Committee – which is working with external consultants investigating various cost scenarios for the new structures.

The Education, Standards and Accreditation Committee is working on finalising a position on practical vocational training (articles and pupillage) in the new dispensation.

The next meeting of the NF plenary will be on 26 November.

Barbara Whittle, Communication Manager, Law Society of South Africa,

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (Oct) DR 17.