Letters to the editor – September 2020

September 1st, 2020

PO Box 36626, Menlo Park 0102

Docex 82, Pretoria

E-mail: derebus@derebus.org.za

Fax: (012) 362 0969

Letters are not published under noms de plume. However, letters from practising attorneys who make their identities and addresses known to the editor may be considered for publication anonymously.


The allowance of legal practitioners to charge on a contingency basis meets with approval since it allows the underprivileged to litigate.

What is not permitted is for witnesses to charge on a contingency basis, because to charge for only successful outcomes would discredit their objectivity.

However, it seems that some legal practitioners do so by asking medical witnesses to ‘write off’ their fees if the outcome of the case does not provide a reward for the claimant (an ipso facto for the legal practitioner).

This is done by selective ostracism of those witnesses who do not ‘cooperate’, and are thus eliminated from that legal practitioner’s inventory of witnesses.

Thus, the conscientious counsel should open their cross-examination by asking the witness whether it is the case that they will only be paid if the outcome of the case is ‘successful’. If the question is not asked, then it should be asked by the presiding judge. If this is the case, the specific witness must be classified as ‘biased’.

Accepting cases on a contingency basis is a gamble that some legal practitioners take, which mostly pays handsomely. However, there is no reason why advocates and witnesses should act on the same basis when the gamble fails, least of all when they are not informed of the risk in advance.

Jon Driver-Jowitt MB BCh FRCS (Wits) is a
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon in Cape Town.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2020 (Sept) DR 4.

South African COVID-19 Coronavirus. Access the latest information on: www.sacoronavirus.co.za