Tariffs discussed at the JAA annual general meeting

October 18th, 2019

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Legal practitioner and member of the Legal Practice Council, Jan Stemmett, spoke at the Johannesburg Attorneys Association Annual General Meeting held on 12 September in Johannesburg.

The Johannesburg Attorneys Association (JAA) held its annual general meeting on 12 September in Johannesburg. Legal practitioner and member of the Legal Practice Council (LPC) Jan Stemmett gave an update on s 35 of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (the LPA). Mr Stemmett said a part of s 35 has been implemented, which includes that the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) must within two years after the commencement of ch 2 of the LPA investigate and report back to the Minister of Justice on recommendations it will make.

Mr Stemmett pointed out that the Minister of Justice may determine maximum fees payable to legal practitioners by government departments, which includes provincial and local sectors. He added that the Office of the State Attorney is working on a National Legal Services platform and developing a uniform of maximum status for the procurement of legal services. Mr Stemmett said that with regard to the Contingency Fees Act 66 of 1997 (the Act), rules pertaining to s 6 of the Act recommended by the Legal Practice Council would be gazetted soon.

Mr Stemmett said that the Rules Board would impose fee tariffs for litigious and non-litigious legal services. He pointed out that one of the requirements of the cost estimation notice is that attorneys and advocates with trust accounts must provide clients with a cost estimate when they take instruction from a client. He added that in subs 4 it states that the SALRC must within a period of two years report back to the Minister of Justice on how to address the rise in legal fees and how access to justice will be improved.

Mr Stemmett said a lot of emphasis has been placed on public interest and making legal services affordable to the public. He added that the LPC is giving input on these issues. He pointed out that the Minister of Justice appointed an advisory committee that must advise the SALRC. However, Mr Stemmett said the concern is that there is not even one legal practitioner in the advisory committee. He said the Law Society of South Africa objected on the matter, but the advisory committee is still as it is, with no representation of legal practitioners on it.

Mr Stemmett said after the conference that the SALRC held in November 2018, the SALRC published Investigation into Legal Fees Project 142 (Issue Paper 36) in which they set out the results from the conference. He pointed out that the LPC was given an extension until September 2019 to submit its comments on the paper. He confirmed that the LPC submitted their comments to the SALRC. Mr Stemmett noted that the SALRC will issue a discussion paper on the recommendations and a draft legislation early next year.

Mr Stemmett said some of the issues outlined in the paper include the –

  • rise of legal fees that are unattainable for most people; and
  • desirability of establishing a mechanism to determine legal fees and tariffs.

He said as far as litigious and non-litigious matters are concerned, the SALRC have asked a series of questions in the issue paper, which like other organisations the LPC has replied to. Mr Stemmett shared some of the questions on the issue paper and answered the questions from the view of the LPC as follows:

  • Q: What are some of the reasons for not having statutory tariffs in a non-litigious and civil matter?

A: The LPC is not in favour of fixed tariffs or any type of method that is not already in the tariff for the courts of law.

  • Q: What impact would statutory tariffs have on the current system?

A: The view of the LPC is that there will be an unintended consequence of having fixed tariffs for all legal services. This will mean that legal practitioners will be driven out of business.

  • Q: Is there a lack of statutory tariff for litigious civil matters?

A: The LPC said the current tariffs set by the rule board in respect to civil litigation matters is adequate.

  • Q: Should statutory tariffs be introduced for litigious civil matters?

A: The introduction of more statutory tariffs would be counterproductive.

  • Q: Can tariffs used by Legal Aid South Africa (Legal Aid SA) and the Office of the State Attorney in criminal and civil matters be used as a benchmark for tariffs in general?

A: The LPC does not support statutory tariffs and in alternative should it be decided that tariffs be imposed, it is submitted that the tariff used by Legal Aid SA and the Office of the State Attorney can only be used as a benchmark, applicable to legal services rendered to individuals, South African people, not companies, corporations and non-South Africans.

Judge President of Gauteng Division of the High Courts, Dunstan Mlambo, gave a presentation on the digitisation initiative at the High Court.

Implementing a digital platform

Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Dunstan Mlambo, gave a presentation about the digital initiative that will be implemented at the High Court. He said that he was appointed as the Information Technology (IT) steering committee chairperson, which is the committee that is tasked to look at implementing IT in the judiciary. Judge President Mlambo said having a digital platform will help reduce some of the daily challenges the court deals with, such as the misfiling of court documents, missing documents, corruption and court order issues.

Judge President Mlambo pointed out that the digital platform in courts will also have benefits, such as the improvement and finalisation of cases, tracking reserved judgments, and tracking the backlogs of cases at the court. It will make it easy for judges to work on performance reports or have online meeting discussions without having to physically meet. He said case law management will be easy on a digital platform. It will be cost-effective, and it will be easy to monitor fraud and corruption, as the system will be able to trace missing files. Judge President Mlambo pointed out that he has visited countries that have digital platforms in their courts and said that the digitised method works well.

JAA Exco members, back row, from left: Bruce Shipalana; Yusuf Wadee; Nicci Messina; Lee-Ann du Toit; Jacques Tarica; and Sisa Nhlabathi.
Front row, from left: Hilde Eksteen; Chantelle Gladwin-Wood; Katherine Gascoigne; and Nakka de Klerk.

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