LSSA Legal Aid, Pro Bono and Small Claims Court Committee meeting

September 1st, 2023
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By Kevin O’Reilly

The Law Society of South Africa’s (LSSA) Legal Aid, Pro Bono and Small Claims Court Committee (the Committee) met on 18 July 2023 to consider a range of issues related to its area of expertise. Some of the issues considered were:

South African Law Reform Commission Discussion Paper

The South African Law Reform Commission Discussion Paper: Project 142: Investigation into Legal Fees – Including Access to Justice and Other Interventions was released in March 2022. Although the report was not published for comment, the LSSA submitted comments to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services. On 1 April 2023, the LSSA sent a follow-up letter to the minister, but no response has been received. The Committee decided to conduct an additional follow-up.

Legal Practice Council – pro bono legal assistance

While the responsibility for regulating pro bono services lies with the Legal Practice Council, the LSSA is invested in monitoring grassroots activities and deems it crucial to encourage the promotion of pro bono services. The Committee, therefore, considered the possibility of incentivising legal practitioners to engage in pro bono work and to give back to their communities.

The Committee considered a recognition award at the end of the year that acknowledges various categories of pro bono work performed by individuals. This could include awards for those who surpass their pro bono obligations or a certificate of recognition for individuals who engage in pro bono work, which serves as a testament to their dedication to serving the poor. Alternatively, a ceremony akin to the Deputy Minister’s Small Claims Court Commissioners’ Long Service Awards could be held.

The Committee observed that many clients face financial constraints due to the country’s economic situation and are unable to afford private legal assistance, especially in the High Court, thus impacting their access to justice. As a result, many practitioners already engage in matters that end up as pro bono work but lack a proper recording system to track these efforts. Therefore, a significant amount of pro bono work remains unrecorded. To address the issue, the Committee considered the possibility of a programme in which practitioners could register cases explicitly designated as pro bono matters.

The Committee also proposed the idea of logging pro bono hours and being able to use those hours to attend Legal Education and Development (LEAD) courses.

Sheriffs

The Committee noted with concern the lack of Sheriffs in certain jurisdictions and, therefore, proposed broadening the scope of engagement between the LSSA and the Board for Sheriffs beyond the discussion of fees. It was noted that some of these issues fall outside the jurisdiction of the Board of Sheriffs and are under the purview of the Department of Justice, such as the appointment of Sheriffs, therefore, the Committee suggested inviting a representative from the Department of Justice to attend the next meeting. This would enable any concerns about the appointment of Sheriffs to be raised and noted during the meeting, and the representative could relay these concerns to the Department of Justice. A proposal was made to gather all Sheriff related concerns from the provincial associations for discussion at the next meeting.

Juristic persons in small claims courts

The Committee explored the possibility of advocating for the extension of the jurisdiction of the small claims courts to include small, medium, and micro enterprises. The Committee identified this matter as a priority for further attention at their next meeting.

Community service

The regulations regarding legal practitioners rendering community service received approval from both houses of Parliament. The Committee noted that the minister has not yet publish them in the Gazette.

Seminars and workshops

The Committee identified local government law and by-laws as potential subjects for training that LEAD could provide. It also identified potential seminars for individuals interested in becoming commissioners of the small claims courts, along with a workshop focused on potential amendments of the Small Claims Courts Act 61 of 1984 to improve the functioning of small claims courts.

Kevin O’Reilly MA (NMU) is a sub-editor at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2023 (Sept) DR 4.

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