Over 447 000 SA citizens given free legal representation in 2013/14 financial year

December 1st, 2014

By Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele

Legal Aid South Africa served 776 301 people in the 2013/14 financial year. This is according to Legal Aid SA chief executive officer, Vidhu Vedalankar’s, report to parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services in Cape Town. The report was delivered on 17 October.

In a press release, Legal Aid SA stated that the organisation assisted 390 118 people in criminal legal aid matters, 57 183 in civil legal aid matters, 328 979 with legal advice and dealt with 21 impact litigation matters.

Impact litigation cases are cases that Legal Aid SA takes on or funds that have the potential to positively affect the lives of a far greater number of indigent persons than the person or persons to whom legal services are rendered directly.

According to Legal Aid SA, it handled 447 301 criminal and civil legal aid matters dealing with poor and vulnerable people. Ninety five percent of these legal aid matters were handled by legal practitioners in its 128 justice centres and satellite offices across the country. Private judicare practitioners were briefed to handle 4% of the legal matters and a further 1% were funded by Legal Aid SA, and were handled by their co-operation partners and agency agreements (with private law firms).

The press release states that the 328 979 legal advice matters were handled by paralegals at Legal Aid SA offices as well through its national legal aid advice line that offers free telephone legal advice in five official languages to South African residents who may find it difficult to travel to Legal Aid SA justice centres for assistance.

‘In the 57 183 civil legal aid matters that were handled in the last financial year, Legal Aid SA assisted women in 56% of the matters and children in 9% of the matters … Assistance was also provided in other family, land and housing, as well as labour matters … Legal Aid SA assisted children in 16 858 matters with 69% (11 689) being legal aid to children in conflict with the law and 31% being children in civil matters’, Legal Aid SA stated.

According to Legal Aid SA, the 100% success rate in impact litigation matters for the eight matters finalised by the organisation in the past financial year supported vulnerable clients to change interpretation of laws, establish new legal principles and realise the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

According to the press release, Ms Vedalankar said that the delivery of legal aid is not without its own challenges, which relate to budget constraints, adequate legal practitioner relief capacity in courts and pending legal matters, which for various reasons delay the finalisation times of legal matters. Legal Aid SA’s budget for the 2013/14 financial year was R 1,5 billion.

The delivery of legal aid was funded with a grant received from government, which constituted the main source of the organisation’s budget of R 1,5 billion for the 2013/14 financial year.

Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele, nomfundo@derebus.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2014 (Dec) DR 10.

De Rebus