Guest editorial – A task team that dare not fail

April 25th, 2016

The task team that must carry forward the resolutions of the high-level summit on Briefing Patterns in the Legal Profession has a critical and heavy burden on its figurative shoulders. It will have to meet the aspirations of many black and female practitioners to rectify skewed briefing patterns. It will also have to prove many cynics wrong.

The summit – convened at the end of March by the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) and attended by numerous relevant stakeholders, from legal practitioners to representatives of the Justice Department and state-owned enterprises – was regarded to be of such serious significance, that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng felt it necessary to give the opening address even though he was delivering the historic ‘Nkandla’ judgment that very morning in the Constitutional Court.

Delegates at the summit collectively expressed their deepest concerns about briefing patterns in the public and private sectors. They were of the view that these endanger the constitutional democracy insofar as the perceived and real bias against black practitioners and women practitioners in these sectors was concerned. (See p 6 of this issue for a report on the summit.)

There was general agreement that this contravened the principles of non-racialism and non-sexism in the Constitution. It further has a negative impact on the progress of affected practitioners and their economic wellbeing.

The summit recognised that meaningful action must be taken by all stakeholders and that this process must be subjected to strict accountability.

Government is expected to embrace decisive action and must not be seen to promote skewed briefing patterns.

The task team – to be convened by the LSSA – will include representatives of legal practitioners, the state through the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as of business through the Black Business Council and Business Unity South Africa.

The task team, which is to give due consideration to all views raised at the summit, is tasked with –

  • developing a uniform protocol on the procurement of legal services;
  • setting targets for entities doing state work;
  • establishing a common register for the recording on state legal work, with reference to name, frequency, value and nature of briefs;
  • drafting a code of conduct for private enterprise in respect of legal work, with which the private sector can associate;
  • considering relevant research, training and development; and
  • monitoring progress with regard to briefing patterns for a report to summit delegates and for considering the necessity of a follow-up summit.

This task team must have the unqualified support of the profession, the department and all other stakeholders if it is to make meaningful progress.

Barbara Whittle, Communication manager, Law Society of South Africa,

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (May) DR 3.