National Bar Association holds its Mid-Winter Meeting in South Africa

March 2nd, 2020

Delegates from the South African judiciary and legal profession attended the dinner hosted by the Black Lawyers Association for the National Bar Association’s Judicial Council in Johannesburg.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Black Lawyers Association President, Mashudu Kutama, with the Chairperson of the National Bar Association’s (NBA’s) Judicial Council, Judge Shauna Graves-Robertson, at the NBA Judicial Council’s Mid-Winter Meeting held in Johannesburg on 29 January.

The National Bar Association’s (NBA) Judicial Council held its 2020 Mid-Winter Meeting in Johannesburg on 29 January and in Cape Town on 5 February. Chairperson of the NBA’s Judicial Council, Judge Shauna Graves-Robertson, from Salt Lake City, told De Rebus that the NBA’s Judicial Council has a Mid-Winter Meeting every year and the chairperson selects the location. She said that she chose South Africa (SA) and the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) helped the NBA put the meeting together.

Ms Graves-Robertson added that at the meeting they discussed various topics, such as comparative criminal procedures and case management where speakers compare various procedures between the United States (US) and SA. Other topics discussed at the meeting held in Johannesburg included –

  • cyber security and data privacy;
  • the role of judges in addressing gender-based violence;
  • strategies for success in the business of law: Overcoming challenges and seizing opportunities and ethics in a digital age; and
  • comparative discussions.

The BLA hosted a dinner for the NBA’s Judicial Council where President of the BLA, Mashudu Kutama, said in his opening remarks that the BLA was happy to host the NBA’s Judicial Council in SA. He added that he had no doubt that the occasion would cement the relationship between the BLA and the NBA. Mr Kutama shared some of the challenges that face legal practitioners in SA, such as the conveyancing examination and briefing patterns. He highlighted the role that the BLA plays in trying to resolve challenges that legal practitioners are faced with in SA.

Guest speaker, Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria, Dunstan Mlambo, spoke on behalf of the judiciary. Judge President Mlambo said he wanted to address what should be the ‘true role of the judiciary’. He pointed out that when one deals with democracy and constitutionalism, one has to consider what role the judiciary has in promoting democratic practices in societies that are deeply divided by racial lines, social injustices and poverty. He asked what the role of the courts and democratic institutions are in upholding the rule of law and promoting a free and fair society?

Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria, Dunstan Mlambo, spoke on behalf of the judiciary at the dinner hosted by the Black Lawyers Association in honour of the National Bar Association’s Judicial Council on 29 January in Johannesburg.

Judge President Mlambo said the judiciary is the third arm of government. But asked if the judiciary is effective in keeping the other two arms of the state in check? He further asked how the judiciary makes use of public engagements, such as, the NBA Mid-Winter Meeting, as judges and the judiciary in relation to what is happening in SA especially in what is happening in its communities? He spoke about government accountability regarding public policy. He said that he hoped that no one disagrees with him when he says: There exists a moral and ethical importance underpinning a responsibility and accountability to ordinary citizens of this country on the part of government as far as public policy is concerned. ‘I fear no contradiction that when that accountability fails the entire moral edifice of constitutionalism and democracy fail,’ Judge President Mlambo added.

Judge President Mlambo used the following examples to make his point:

  • The poor in SA are still holding onto the promise of the Constitution.
  • There are loud voices suggesting that the Constitution remains a dream and ‘born frees’ who regard the Constitution as a sell-out document.
  • The SA Bill of Rights guarantees merit of rights, such as the right to education, however, he noted that in rural areas there are learners who are taught in makeshift structures, use pit toilets, do not have scholar transport and, who must cross rivers to get to school.

Judge President Mlambo said that there is a lack of access to courts, as courts remain the domain of the rich. He added that in trying to address this social economic issue, the SA government has developed the National Development Plan (NDP). Judge President Mlambo pointed out that the NDP was developed with the aim to reduce poverty and inequality in SA. He quoted the NDP where it states that: ‘Citizens have the right to expect government to deliver certain basic services, and to hold leaders accountable for their actions.’ Judge President Mlambo touched on the justice system in the US, he said that there are many reports on how the US justice system is targeting African Americans. He added that if one considers reports about the state of US prisons, the majority of the imprisoned are African Americans and yet, they are regarded as a minority group, he asked if there is something to that?

Judge President Mlambo said that if the government, of which the judiciary is a part of, is the greatest reflection of human nature, then it must represent the best in human values in the kinds of norms and practices that are expected from a civil society whose cornerstones are founded on democratic thoughts and practices.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, at the National Bar Association’s Judicial Council dinner hosted by the Black Lawyers Association in Johannesburg.

Keynote speaker Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, said that it was important that the NBA Judicial Council chose SA for its Mid-Winter Meeting, not just for teachings or workshops but because it reflects that SA – as a tourism destination – is important to the globe. He added that it is a show and a vote of confidence in SA. Mr Lamola pointed out that there was no doubt in his mind that the relationship between the BLA and the NBA is of importance to SA and the US. He added that the global population needs one another in the growing challenges facing the globe, including the challenges of climate change.

Mr Lamola added: ‘As organisations, BLA and NBA you share common history and dare I say a mission, which is a pursuit of racial and gender equality in society, broadly but more acutely in the legal profession.’ He added that the important questions of gender transformation are not void of class analysis. He pointed out that 25 years into the democracy of SA the country is still battling with the question of class, particularly based on race. However, Mr Lamola said SA is still standing because of the independence of the judiciary.

Mr Lamola confirmed at the dinner that there has been looting of public funds in the country and some of the challenges that have been caused by the misuse of state funds. He gave examples of how Eskom is struggling and how at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State, it is being revealed that professionals, such as legal practitioners, accountants, as well as politicians have played a role in this crisis. However, he said that some legal practitioners and the judiciary did at some point in time speak and adjudicate to resolve some of the issues.

Speaking about the Legal Practice Council (LPC), Mr Lamola mentioned that the LPC is an independent body that regulates legal practitioners in SA. He said that the government of SA supports the LPC, as the government believes that the LPC is a body that needs to be given support to mature and to play its role for the profession to grow. ‘We believe from its ranks that future judges and future leaders of our country will continue to emerge,’ Mr Lamola added.

Mr Lamola quoted former President Nelson Mandela speaking on the matter of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in saying: ‘“The independence of the judiciary is one of the pillars of our democracy and equally fundamental is the commitment to abide by the decisions of the courts, whether they are in one’s favour or not”. We must respect them and abide by them, because society will always respect a government that respects the decisions of the courts.’

Delegates from the United States and South Africa attending the National Bar Association’s Judicial Council Mid-Winter Meeting in Cape Town.

On 5 February at the second leg of the Mid-Winter Meeting, panellists discussed –

  • comparative civil procedures and case management;
  • intellectual property: Threats that undermine global economy;
  • human trafficking;
  • modern slavery and internal implication for addressing drug addiction; and
  • distribution best practices.

United States Ambassador, Lana Marks, spoke at the National Bar Association’s Judicial Council, Mid-Winter Meeting held in Cape Town on 5 February.

US ambassador to SA, Lana Marks, made a surprise appearance at the meeting. In her remarks she said that she was pleased to see a delegation of some of the finest American jurists visiting SA and building important bridges and understanding between the two great countries. She added that the NBA did well in choosing SA – a country where the judiciary plays a pivotal role and continues to be central in making the country a vibrant democracy and champions in the ongoing struggle to guarantee rights for all. ‘It is wonderful to know that you are here to meet South Africans and learn from each other’, said Ms Marks. She added that the theme of the NBA’s meeting: ‘Working in Unity to Advance Global Justice’, resonates deeply in SA. She pointed out that as a lead diplomat for the US in SA, she prioritises justice as a national security priority.

Ms Marks said: ‘We are working every day to empower South Africans who are pushing for reform and to encourage citizens to call for transparency, accountability and integrity’. She said her team supports SA prosecutors going after SA’s most corrupt officials and business people. ‘Your work is very close to my heart this is why I personally wanted to thank you for your visit, which I am sure has inspired you and has inspired all of the South Africans that you have met, thank you,’ Ms Marks said.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

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