Attorneys shine at Pro Bono awards

October 28th, 2015
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By Kathleen Kriel

ProBono.Org recently held its second annual Pro Bono awards ceremony on 17 September at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg.

The event celebrates the valuable role that legal practitioners play in providing pro bono legal services and access to justice for disadvantaged people in South Africa.

Public Protector, advocate Thuli Madonsela, was the keynote speaker at the second annual Pro Bono Awards on 17 September at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg.

Public Protector, advocate Thuli Madonsela, was the keynote speaker at the second annual Pro Bono Awards on 17 September at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg.

Keynote speaker, Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, congratulated the nominees and winners who provide legal services to those who cannot afford them. Ms Madonsela said the celebration coincided with Access to Justice week, an initiative which extends legal services to the disadvantaged. ‘Your role as providers of free legal advice and representation to those who cannot afford can never be  under estimated. Access to justice, incorporating access to legal advice and or representation, is one of the essentials of the rule of law,’ she said.

Link between access to justice and legal assistance

Ms Madonsela referred to s 34 of the Constitution, which states: ‘Everyone has the right to have any dispute that can be resolved by the application of law decided in a fair public hearing before a court or, where appropriate, another independent and impartial tribunal or forum.’ Ms Madonsela said the essence to access to justice is the opportunity for a victim of injustice, or person involved in a dispute, to readily access a forum that can listen to his or her grievance and/or resolve their dispute in a fair and expeditious manner that leads to redress where deserved. ‘I hope you will also agree with me that without a chance to understand or to be understood at whatever forum that deals with your grievance or dispute, there is no access to justice. That is where pro bono legal services come in. In an utopically just world, none of us would ever be judged on the basis of laws we have never heard of, or do not understand and in proceedings we do not understand. But it happens,’ she said.

Why is it important that all experience access to justice?

Ms Madonsela referred to the World Justice Forum, which places the rule of law at the centre of societal peace and progress, regards access to justice, incorporating legal empowerment of the poor, as an essential part of the rule of law. ‘Part of it relates to the legitimacy of the state. I prefer to see it as our collective insurance for peace and stability. At the core of it is accountability. You will agree with me that democracy, progress and sustainable peace to be experienced by any society, its citizens should have mechanisms to have their grievances resolved fairly and wrongs redressed,’ she said.

Ms Madonsela added that if citizens feel that their grievances or disputes are not being treated fairly, they are likely to take the law into their own hands. ‘They may not do it today or tomorrow but they will eventually do it. … Where people believe they have been wronged, there must be a readily available independent platform to resolve the grievance or dispute fairly,’ said Ms Madonsela.

Ms Madonsela said knowing the law and related regulatory frameworks empowers all to participate meaningfully in democracy, development and other societal processes. ‘It further fosters respect for the rule of law,’ she said.

Partnership between the Public Protector and the pro bono community

Ms Madonsela said no legal assistance is required when citizens approach her office, however, there were a few occasions when disadvantaged persons were assisted by lawyers and in some of those cases, everyone benefitted from the added insights. She added by saying that in this regard, the opposite also happens. ‘Some of the cases that come to my office are not pro bono matters, but simple cases of poor treatment of the disadvantaged who have paid for legal services. Key among the trends we have picked up, is violation of people’s agency, mostly through the lawyer proceeding to approach a case without input from the client and even settling it without consent. It is important to remember that just because a person is not a lawyer, it does not mean they are not smart, insightful nor have a view on a matter that involves their lives,’ she said.

In conclusion, Ms Madonsela thanked attorneys for their contribution to an inclusive, socially just and fair society. ‘I am certain your work is taking us in the direction of the South Africa we want, the Africa we want and the world we all yearn for. … Our collective efforts are also contributing to a society where there is accountability, integrity and responsiveness,’ she said.

Pro Bono award winners

Public Protector, advocate Thuli Madonsela, (middle back) and National Director of ProBono.Org, Erica Emdon (back right), with the Pro Bono Awards winners at the second annual Pro Bono Awards.

Public Protector, advocate Thuli Madonsela, (middle back) and National Director of ProBono.Org, Erica Emdon (back right), with the Pro Bono Awards winners at the second annual Pro Bono Awards.

The winners were announced by master of ceremonies and executive director of Corruption Watch, David Lewis.

Law firm, Webber Wentzel scooped three of the seven awards on the night. Moray Hathorn, partner and head of Webber Wentzel’s Pro Bono department and winner of the individual attorney award said: ‘We are committed to equal justice for all members of South Africa’s society by providing these essential legal services to individuals and communities on issues such as enterprise development, land reform, housing, education, healthcare, children’s rights, gender equality and service provision. It is an absolute honour to be recognised for the pro bono work which we do. We are exceedingly proud to be acknowledged as a responsible citizen who can be a voice for those who have none.’

The winners were announced in the following categories:

  • Most impactful case award: Webber Wentzel – emolument attachment orders case (University of Stellenbosch Legal Aid Clinic and Others v Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and Others 2015 (5) SA 221 (WCC)).
  • Individual attorney award: Moray Hathorn – partner at Webber Wentzel.
  • Children’s rights award: Hogan Lovells – court preparation training for Teddy Bear Clinic.
  • Law clinic student award: Danelle Prinsloo – Pretoria University’s Law Clinic.
  • Human rights champion award: Southern African Litigation Centre – Zimbabwe torture case (Southern African Litigation Centre and Another v National Department of Public Prosecutions and Others [2012] 3 All SA 198 (GNP)).
  • Advocate award: Steven Budlender.
  • National Director’s special mentions:
    • Albert Makwela
    • Norman Moabi
    • Lesley Maman
    • Professor Peter Jordi

 

Kathleen Kriel  BTech (Journ) (TUT) is the production editor at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2015 (Nov) DR 14.