Ramblings of a grumpy attorney

July 1st, 2018

By Grumpy Attorney

Often as a legal practitioners, we are so enmeshed in our daily grind, that we do not see the bigger picture.

What follows, are some concerns I have about various aspects of our daily lives, which we too often take for granted.

Regional court

I would like to start with the regional court. While waiting at a regional court recently, I started chatting to my opponent. I asked her whether she does her divorces via the regional court or the High Court. Her answer, like mine, was that she prefers to use the High Court.

She and I agreed that the regional court is slower, more cumbersome and that the regional court judges are more inclined to be difficult and obstructive, than High Court judges.

Clearly, therefore, the very purpose for which the regional court was set up, namely, to shift divorces and particularly unopposed divorces, and also of course smaller civil claims away from the High Court to thereby free up the High Court roll. This is not being achieved.

While waiting at the regional court and having these chats with my colleague, we were sitting right underneath a board, which proclaimed who the head of the regional court in the Western Cape was. I tried calling the person a few days after being at court and left a message for them, as I wanted to convey my views. The person has not returned my call.

If more attorneys are to start using the regional court, then they will have to become more user-friendly and people who are involved in the administration and running of the regional courts, will have to carefully consider the concerns, which I am raising, and perhaps engage constructively with the organised legal profession, so as to deal with these issues.

For the moment, and unless and until I hear to the contrary, I avoid the regional court if possible.


What a bureaucratic nightmare. As far as I am concerned, all that the Financial Intelligence Centre Act 38 of 2001 (FICA) has done is to make everyone’s life difficult. The FICA authorities are demanding, obstructive, difficult and worst of all, despite this massive burden of bureaucracy, which they have imposed on us, we never hear about any successes. Is the FICA legislation achieving what it set out to achieve?

Furthermore, in all of my years as an attorney since FICA was brought in, I have never had occasion to make a report in terms of FICA. An additional complaint, which I have is that as the head of the branch office of an attorney’s firm, which has its head office in Johannesburg, and only one bank account, which is administered from Johannesburg, I am nonetheless obliged to comply with onerous requirements as regards our Cape Town office. It is totally unnecessary and achieves nothing for our Cape Town office to be registered with FICA, as all banking is handled via our head office. Try telling that to the bureaucrats at FICA.


Our entire system of civil procedure, depends on Sheriffs doing their duties timeously and efficiently. Maybe my complaint here should be addressed to the Board of Sheriffs and to those committees within the legal profession that interact with the Sheriffs, but my prima facie view is that the Sheriffs are slow, cumbersome, expensive and that when Sheriffs are struck off or removed from their posts, we never  hear about it. They seem to operate behind a veil, which is never lifted. Their accounts are also so complicated, that they seldom get checked and my cynical view is that they overcharge. On the few occasions when I have checked the detail of a Sheriff’s account, there has always been an overcharge.

Master’s Office

Earlier this year, the Master’s Office announced a massive increase in its fees. I do not have the exact figures at hand, but what they will now require is members of the public (often poor persons) to pay for copies of documents, the cost of which has increased.

I am shocked by this. Firstly, most citizens pay tax either in the form of income tax or value added tax. Why, when we deal with a government office, must it charge us fees at all, never mind hike its fees by such amazing amounts, without any prior public participation process that I am aware of?

And, the aforegoing begs the question of how incredibly slow the Master’s Office is. Fortunately for my frustration levels, I do not have too much to do with the Master’s Office, but it takes – literally –
months to be appointed as an executor or Master’s representative, and months to obtain letters of authority for a trust.

My final complaint:

Issuing magistrate’s court summonses

At the High Court, I can issue a summons over the counter. The officials there do not bother with its contents and it is my problem if the summons turns out to be defective in any way.

At most magistrate’s courts, however, summonses are not only not issued over the counter, but are left to be scrutinised by officials who adopt an incredibly pedantic approach. So, after leaving a summons at a magistrate’s court, it may come back to one after many weeks – if not months – with a requirement that it be amended because of some defect in the small print. Why can there not be consistency in this regard and why can all magistrate’s court summonses not be issued over the counter? If there are defects in the summons, the attorney runs the risk of default judgment not being granted.

For obvious reasons, I would prefer my name not to be published and trust, therefore, that this article will be published under the nom de plume of ‘Grumpy Attorney’.

I look forward to receiving responses from other grumpy or perhaps not so grumpy or maybe even grumpier attorneys.

Grump Attorney is based in Cape Town. The identity of this author is known to the editor and editorial committee.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (July) DR 52.