LSSA commits to supporting Office of the Chief Justice and national court enhancement initiatives

February 1st, 2014
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By Barbara Whittle

Late in November 2013, the LSSA’s Management Committee (Manco) members met with Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and representatives of the Office of the Chief Justice in Johannesburg. The Chief Justice thanked the LSSA for its cooperation in and support of the National Efficiency Enhancement Committee (NEEC), and the provincial committees that were launched in mid-November last year. ‘The judiciary and the profession need to view one another as partners,’ said Chief Justice Mogoeng.

In a press release in mid-November, the LSSA noted that it had participated actively in the NEEC since its inception last year and was committed to supporting the Office of the Chief Justice, the Judges President, the chairperson of the NEEC, Judge Nathan Erasmus, and all the other stakeholders in this critical endeavour to improve the delivery of justice to members of the public who use the courts and the legal profession to seek redress. Co-chairpersons Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu and David Bekker said: ‘With the assistance of the statutory provincial law societies, the LSSA has committed to –

  • exploring effective ways of dealing with attorneys who may appear to be unprepared when appearing in court and with those who habitually request postponements of matters;
  • dealing with arrangements between judicial officers, prosecutors and lawyers to postpone cases unnecessarily as a favour to each other, but to the detriment of litigants; and
  • monitoring legal fees so that they are affordable to the public.

‘The legal profession is an honourable one and attorneys are bound by strict rules of ethics and professional conduct. Conduct that leads to unnecessary delays and prejudice to litigants, as well as excessive fees – or overreaching – are not tolerated. We believe that such conduct can be eradicated with the assistance of judicial officers and other stakeholders.’

The LSSA also stressed the attorneys’ profession’s ongoing commitment to access to justice through the provision of pro bono services to indigent members of the public. In addition, the profession is in the process of instituting a ‘First Interview Scheme’ on a national basis. In terms of the scheme, members of the public who did not qualify for pro bono services or legal aid, would be referred to a participating attorney for a first free half-hour consultation. During the consultation, clients receive advice on whether there is merit in the matters they wish to pursue and also receive an indication of the costs*.

At the meeting with the Chief Justice, he indicated that when members of judiciary say or do something unacceptable, the profession should seek a meeting with him so that matters can be discussed and clarified. This could avoid unnecessary public misunderstandings. In addition, the Chief Justice and the LSSA delegation also discussed:

  • The importance of modernising the court system and the role of the Office of the Chief Justice and the profession. This included the proper implementation of judicial case management, the investigation of electronic filing and video conferencing for witnesses, as well as an overhaul of court rules.
  • More active participation by South African legal practitioners in international tribunals and courts (such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice), including nominations to serve as judicial officers and representing claimants on a pro bono basis in human rights abuse cases.
  • The role of the profession in exerting pressure within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regarding the re-establishment of the SADC Tribunal.
  • The need to prepare, train and mentor legal practitioners for judicial office so that they are properly equipped and prepared when being interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission; the need to mentor female candidates in particular, was stressed, as was the need to ensure that historically disadvantaged practitioners are briefed to appear in the higher courts, including the Constitutional Court.

* Attorneys who wish to be placed on the roster to receive First Interview Scheme instructions should contact their relevant provincial law society.

Compiled by Barbara Whittle, communication manager, Law Society of South Africa, Barbara@lssa.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2014 (Jan/Feb) DR 25.

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