What do young legal professionals think about access to justice in South Africa?

July 25th, 2022
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By Kgomotso Ramotsho

De Rebus News Reporter, Kgomotso Ramotsho, compiled a vox pop asking young legal professionals questions relating to access to justice, transformation, and legal education in South Africa (SA).

Motsepe Moremi

 Motsepe Moremi hails from Pretoria, holding a paralegal diploma from Tshwane University of Technology and an LLB from the University of Fort Hare. He is currently a professional assistant at Mtimkulu-Khwinana Attorneys and is passionate about divorce and criminal law matters.

Kgomotso Ramotsho (KR): In your own words, what does access to justice mean in a democratic SA?

Motsepe Moremi (MM): The answer is in two distinctions. First, access to justice refers to the availability of infrastructure such as court buildings, offices of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, traditional courts, the Public Protector etcetera. The second distinction refers to the availability of legal practitioners, magistrates, and judges to render their services to even the marginalised members of the society to challenge and/or institute criminal or civil action.

KR: Looking at the history of the legal profession in SA, how SA used to be under an Apartheid regime, is transformation happening? Can you confidently say that all legal practitioners, male, female, black or white are accessing equal opportunities in the legal fraternity or do we still have a long way to go?

MM: Transformation has been the Achilles’ heel in SA. We have in recent years seen black males predominantly occupy seats in the higher courts. However, transformation is beyond just colour. We still use English and I have heard some magistrates use Afrikaans to address practitioners. Customary law is still treated as a secondary law and not equal to Roman-Dutch law or statute. A good example is divorce in customary marriages, some magistrate’s put requirements (a marriage certificate), which is non-existent in the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998.

KR: What is the one thing that you would change about legal education in SA?

MM: The training for advocates and attorneys should be unified and candidates should choose at the end of their training whether they elect to practise as an advocate or attorney.


Joy Mupariwa

Joy Mupariwa is originally from Zimbabwe and completed her LLB with the University of South Africa. She is currently self-employed exploring the entrepreneurship hub in imports and exports of commodities. Ms Mupariwa is also a member of the Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association.

KR: In your own words, what does access to justice mean in a democratic SA?

Joy Mupariwa (JM): In my own opinion, I would define it as a fair chance to secure one’s own rights under the law with the mission to help the justice system efficiently deliver outcomes that are fair and accessible to all, irrespective of wealth and status. Barriers that prevent people from understanding and exercising their rights should be eliminated.

KR: Looking at the history of the legal profession in SA, how it used to be under an Apartheid regime, is transformation happening? Can you confidently say that all legal practitioners, male, female, black or white are accessing equal opportunities in the legal fraternity or do we still have a long way to go?

JM: In my opinion, there has been improvement to a larger extent post-Apartheid as racial and gender iniquities are much less than during Apartheid. However, the majority especially black legal practitioners do not have access to the best articles, networks and law firms when entering the law fraternity as compared to others. This is one major challenge and to get noticed as a black female, one must work probably twice as much to get a slight salary bump and even a promotion.

KR: What is the one thing that you would change about legal education in SA?

JM: In my view, to improve legal education there should be an increase in resources, provide opportunities for perfecting oral and written expression and introduce students to trial and appellate advocacy and the use of computers for legal research and case preparation.


Zara-Georgina Walker

Zara-Georgina Walker is currently studying a BA Law at the University of Pretoria. She received her degree in International Relations in May 2022. She is in her fourth year of studies hoping to specialise in either environmental law or human rights law. She is also in her first year of studying towards her postgraduate LLB degree.

KR: In your own words what does access to justice mean in a democratic SA?

Zara-Georgina Walker (ZW): Access to justice in a democratic SA may be aided by shifting the focus from equality in the justice system to equity for its citizens. The reality is that the justice system is open to everyone, but it is not equally accessible by all of it citizens. What access to justice means to me is a democratic nation, which is not divided by wealth, as those who do not have equal economic standing must have access to a fair justice system to the same advantage as those with financial means to do so. Poorer citizens are often excluded by the justice system as often there is a lack of connection and trust between the people and the law especially of those disadvantaged by their socio-economic environment. It is important that justice is within reach for all citizens from the beginning of the legal system to the end meaning the police force have a duty to follow correct procedures and connect citizens to the pathways in which they can access justice as far as the judicial system. There must be no barriers between the people and justice whether it is language, education or financial. I believe that educating citizens about their rights and where they stand within the law will assist in removing these barriers. There are instances where citizens do not even attempt to access justice because the socio-economic inequalities of the democracy are too great.

Justice should be equally accessible by all citizens and not speaking or understanding English as a first language should not hinder this accessibility. Language is a crucial element to any justice system but especially one in a country that has 11 official languages. It is a constitutional right for a citizen to be spoken to or to speak in a language that they understand, particularly during court proceedings, which confers to the right of a fair trial. Despite this, the only language of record in the country’s court is English. This does not give equal access to justice as only 9,6% of our population speak English as a first language. Significant change has taken place in South Africa since 1994 but there are still factors like poverty as well as a lack of resources and education that distance the people from the justice system.

KR: Looking at the history of the legal profession in SA, how it used to be under an Apartheid regime, is transformation happening? Can you confidently say that all legal practitioners, male, female, black or white are accessing equal opportunities in the legal fraternity or do we still have a long way to go?

ZR: Compared to the legal profession in SA during the Apartheid regime, there has been significant strides towards substantive equality within the legal profession. During Apartheid the judicial system reflected the racial regimes built on discrimination and prejudice against people of colour. Non-white citizens were not able to access jobs in the legal profession to the same degree as white citizens as this was a form of control. The statistics in 2020 showed the number of judges in SA were 268, 134 being male and 95 being female. Of the judges 31,9% are white and 45,4% are black. Although racial diversity of the courts in the last 20 years of democracy has noticeably increased the same cannot truly be said in terms of gender. In 2022, out of the 11 Constitutional Court judges only three are female. Although there has not been complete transformation of the legal profession it is still important to acknowledge the change that has taken place thus far. It would be naïve for us to think that we have done everything that we can do to achieve equality but as a nation we must establish where we see our end goal to be. As I was growing up it was seeing powerful and significant women in the legal profession that led me to choosing a BA Law as the degree I wished to study. Although I did not see women in equal numbers to men in the profession, the women I did see inspired me to strive to break into the profession.

Although there is change, I cannot confidently say that all legal practitioners irrespective of race or gender have access to equal opportunities in the legal profession as statistics show there is still opportunity for growth and inclusivity of women and especially women of colour in the industry. Frameworks like transformative constitutionalism usher the country towards change in socio-economic and political systems that give way to more diversity, less bias and ultimately better access for all into the legal profession.

KR: What is the one thing that you would change about legal education in SA?

ZR: As a student currently completing my LLB the one thing I would change about the legal education in South Africa would be to focus on more practical aspects of law as a future career, as well as the theory behind it. Learning theory and principles is vital to our future in the legal profession, but I believe that students would benefit greatly by experiencing a practical way of learning the law during your studies at university before entering the legal profession as a candidate attorney. I would change legal education to teach us not only how to think like a lawyer but act like a lawyer. Educational tools like law clinics help us to understand the connection between our theoretical knowledge and those who we wish to assist through our profession in the future.


Josias Venter

Non-practicing legal practitioner, Josias Venter, is an Internal Commercial Law Specialist at Eezi Move Furniture Removals. He obtained his BCom degree at the University of Pretoria in 2016 and an LLB degree at the University of Pretoria in 2019. He was admitted as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa on 3 August 2021. Mr Venter is also entitled to appear in the High Court.

KR: In your own words, what does access to justice mean in a democratic SA?

Josias Venter (JV): Every individual should have the opportunity to gain access to our courts. Grave injustices could be corrected more adequately and with each correction being a step forward for our Rainbow Nation.

KR: Looking at the history of the legal profession in SA, how it used to be under an Apartheid regime, is transformation happening? Can you confidently say that all legal practitioners, male, female, black or white are accessing equal opportunities in the legal fraternity or do we still have a long way to go?

JV: Yes, I am confident that transformation is occurring, whether all ethnic groups receive equal opportunities is a question that is yet to be answered.

KR: What is the one thing that you would change about legal education in SA?

JV: To incorporate more practical training. The gap between practice and paper is far too wide.


Mishkah Abdool Sattar

Mishkah Abdool Sattar obtained an LLB degree at the University of Pretoria. She is currently a Mergers and Acquisitions Analyst at the Competition Commission.

KR: In your own words what does access to justice mean in a democratic SA?

Mishkah Abdool Satter (MAS): Access to justice entails every individual whether on their own or as a collective being able to have the ability to be able to raise legal matters in appropriate forums, courts, or tribunals – this would be irrespective of their financial means, educational background and/or physical barriers due to location. I think it is important to understand that access to justice and/or the courts and other statutory bodies can fundamentally assist with many pertinent issues experienced in SA.

KR: Looking at the history of the legal profession in SA, how it used to be under an Apartheid regime, is transformation happening? Can you confidently say that all legal practitioners, male, female, black or white are accessing equal opportunities in the legal fraternity or do we still have a long way to go?

MAS: The first fundamental cornerstone of transformation has occurred, and that is access to justice being part of the Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 of the Constitution. From there it is important to note that there are courts that have been established, statutory bodies and forums. One statutory body for example being the Competition Commission (the Commission). The Commission’s purpose includes providing consumers with competitive prices and product choices, promoting employment, and advancing the social and economic welfare of South Africans, which was perhaps something that might have not been emphasised or focused on before or accessible to all South Africans.

In relation to equal opportunities in the legal fraternity holistically and fundamentally, access to the legal profession would begin at having access to basic and higher education, which was and remains a challenge to individuals that were historically disadvantaged. However, I believe there has been improvement in the legal fraternity, but we have quite a long way to go in respect of bridging the gap between law graduates and these graduates’ finding employment within the legal space.

KR: What is the one thing that you would change about legal education in SA?

MAS: I would like to dispel the notion that once you have a legal qualification you need to follow the ‘traditional’ approach. This would mean working at a law firm or being an advocate. There are many avenues other than being an attorney or advocate and working in the private sector in South Africa. An example would, once again, be the regulation of competition in SA. It is quite a ‘niche’ area of the law that has a profound impact on the economy and aspects of employment in SA.


Michael Scott Crawford

Michael Scott Crawford is a 27-year-old, legal practitioner practicing in Johannesburg, running his own law firm Crawford Legal Practitioners. Most of his practice revolves around litigation in various fields. Mr Crawford enjoys doing commercial work around structuring of business transactions and trusts. He obtained his LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2016.

KR: In your own words what does access to justice mean in a democratic SA?

Michael Crawford (MC): Access to justice means that every person suffering an injustice at the hands of another can protect their rights by getting user friendly legal advice and services within their own geography and within a price range that they can afford. It means no person will be left isolated and helpless when they encounter legal issues, be it of a civil or criminal nature.

KR: Looking at the history of the legal profession in SA, how it used to be under an Apartheid regime, is transformation happening? Can you confidently say that all legal practitioners, male, female, black or white are accessing equal opportunities in the legal fraternity or do we still have a long way to go?

MC: As a born free in 2022, I would have loved to say that everyone has equal opportunities in the profession, but from my experiences this is certainly not the case. While we have legislative reforms aiming to level the playing field, these are not always harmonious with the commercial realities that businesses face, resulting in previously disadvantaged groups still being isolated in many respects.

One issue that immediately comes to mind is the difference in knowledge and education that individuals enter tertiary studies and the workplace with. Having graduated from a top university and starting my working career with a wider knowledge of business and the working world than is taught at university already placed me at an advantage entering the profession. For instance, I remember learning about the different classes of shares and their respective rights from my father while still in school, many of my colleagues were only taught this in university, some in practice.

We have made progress, but to see real transformation there will have to be a reform in how legal talent is identified and thereafter developed intensively and supported with sufficient resources to ensure that opportunities can be utilised by practitioners (and prospective practitioners) across the board.

KR: What is the one thing that you would change about legal education in SA?

MC: If I could change one thing about the South African legal education, I would change the LLB curriculum to include a compulsory business and business skills module, a ‘micro-MBA’ if you will, that would not only better round the knowledge base of prospective practitioners when entering the workplace but would also teach entrepreneurial thinking and allow new doors to be opened in the profession.


Elgemé Haarhoff

Legal practitioner, Elgemé Haarhoff, is a practicing junior advocate at the Gauteng Society of Advocates. She has a BA Law, LLB and will soon obtain an LLM degree in Procedural Law, including a diploma in Social Security Law from the University of Pretoria. She further underwent continuous development in Advanced Trial Advocacy, Power of Persuasion, Leadership, Advanced Psychology, Ethics and Mediation. Her specialisation is based on criminal law, family law, mediation, law of contracts, urgent applications, civil litigation, and drafting.

KR: In your own words what does access to justice mean in a democratic SA?

Elgemé Haarhoff (EH): While the concept of justice is difficult to define, justice cannot be perfect, but our system of procedure should be just. In SA, where the Constitution reigns supreme, our right to access to justice is embodied in s 34. The right to access to courts guarantees equality, namely, ‘everyone has the right’ and audi alteram partem ‘a fair public hearing before a court’. Today more South Africans have access to the Internet, than access to justice. Section 34 advances the justice system to reflect the evolution of society and its needs.

KR: Looking at the history of the legal profession in SA, how it used to be under an Apartheid regime, is transformation happening? Can you confidently say that all legal practitioners, male, female, black or white are accessing equal opportunities in the legal fraternity or do we still have a long way to go?

EH: With respect, I submit that since the Apartheid regime, we ask the wrong questions. It is indeed not about the equal opportunities for us as legal practitioners, but the importance of all people’s equal opportunities to access. We focus on the wrong transformation taking place. We focus on the manner the legal fraternity operated during the Apartheid regime, however, we should instead focus on the manner the legal fraternity should operate in the future. We should modernise our legal and justice system. I believe we should implement permanent virtual hearings, courts, and online dispute resolution. With online courts there will be a tremendous increase in access to justice, both for litigants and the legal fraternity. Therefore, on this one aspect alone, we indeed still have a long way to go.

KR: What is the one thing that you would change about legal education in SA?

EH: We should concentrate on preparing young students adequately for the manner in which the practice of law will operate in the future. Legal education centres around training aspirant legal practitioners to become the traditional consultative advisors instead of preparing our next generation of legal practitioners to be technology sophisticated hybrid professionals, who are equipped to transcend the traditional legal system. The legal education system profoundly focusses on the former, with little concern regarding the latter. The next generation is trained to become 19th and 20th century legal practitioners, and not 21st century legal practitioners. If the legal education curriculum does not develop at the same speed as technology, we fail our aspirant legal practitioners and future should we not widen our training to encompass the new changes we face. We cannot ignore the future practice. If and only if, our next generation are not properly equipped for today, we are wholly ill-equipped for tomorrow. Therefore, modest adjustments will not suffice. Students should be provided with the current and future trends in the legal system, as well as 21st century legal skills, to support the future law positions. There is a need for a legal profession that extends beyond the traditional service. These facilities will be immeasurable more effective than requiring aspirant legal practitioners to memorise endless lists of study materials to solely end up reviewing endless piles of documents. As a concluding remark, I highly recommend and encourage all aspirant candidate, junior, senior, practising, and retired legal practitioners to read the book by Richard Susskind titled ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future’ (Oxford University Press 2017).


Karabo Maepane

Legal practitioner, Karabo Maepane, is an admitted attorney of the High Court and currently practicing as such. Ms Maepane obtained her LLB degree at the University of Pretoria.

KR: In your own words, what does access to justice mean in a democratic SA?

Karabo Maepane (KM): I am of the view that access to justice in a democratic SA is intrinsically linked with the constitutional right to equality. We cannot say that South Africans have access to justice while we still live in an unequal society.

The concept of access to justice is much broader than having access to courts and legal representation. This concept encompasses social justice, which embodies the access to opportunities in a society.

The social inequalities create a hurdle for South Africans to obtain access to courts. The Constitution affords rights to South Africans but without addressing the socio-economic issues such as a lack of legal education and poverty, most South Africans will not be aware when their rights have been infringed, how to deal with such infringements and how to confront injustices.

Further, due to the high levels of poverty and the costs of legal representation, it is safe to say that most South Africans cannot afford justice.

KR: Looking at the history of the legal profession in SA, how it used to be under the Apartheid regime, is transformation happening? Can you confidently say that all legal practitioners, male, female, black or white are accessing equal opportunities in the legal fraternity or do we still have a long way to go?

KM: In my opinion, it would be incorrect to say that the wheels of transformation in the legal fraternity have not turned since the end of the Apartheid regime.

Similarly, it would be incorrect to say that transformation in the legal profession has occurred to a point where all legal practitioners have equal access to opportunities in the profession, as this is far from true. Racial and gender inequalities remain problematic as the legal profession falls short of demonstrating the diversity of the South African society.

Black women are, in particular, underrepresented in the profession, especially in senior positions. There seems to be barriers that prohibit the upward trajectory of black women in different spheres of our profession. One can only assume that it relates to, among other things, gender and racial discrimination and stereotypes.

Until more black women occupy positions of power, we cannot say that legal practitioners have equal access to opportunities. We hope that the legal services charter may bring much needed change to expedite transformation and expedite change.

KR: What is the one thing that you would change about legal education in SA?

KM: Legal education in South Africa does not sufficiently prepare students for legal practice. In my opinion, this is related to the fact that the LLB curriculum focuses mainly on theory. The inclusion of practical legal studies in legal education will enable students to apply theoretical principals and enhance their critical thinking skills. By including this in the LLB curriculum, graduates will be better equipped for legal practice, and this will ultimately produce quality lawyers.

Further, certain subjects such as legal bookkeeping are only introduced to some law graduates in the Practical Legal Training (PLT) courses which graduates are required to attend to be eligible for admission in the practice of law. Such subjects should be included in the LLB curriculum to ensure that students have basic knowledge of the contents thereof. This will ensure that law students who wish to enter the practice of law have a basic understanding of the subjects that they will be required to pass in Board examinations.

Legal education must be transformative in order for the legal fraternity to breed well-versed and competent lawyers.


Pheladi Daisy Ramushu

Pheladi Daisy Ramushu is a marketing and law graduate from the University of Pretoria. She is currently working at Maesela Inc Attorneys. She describes herself as an individual who is proudly South African, motivated, and someone who displays the utmost level of professionalism.

 KR: In your own words, what does access to justice mean in a democratic South Africa (SA)?

Pheladi Ramushu (PR): Access to justice in a democratic SA equates to addressing the hindrances of socio-economic inclusion. Every member of society should have an equal right to be protected by the law regardless of their race, financial status, or gender. It is not only imperative that the legal system protects human rights, but it is also of equivalent importance that these rights are adequately enforceable through the various means of our legal systems.

KR: Looking at the history of the legal profession in SA, how it used to be under the Apartheid regime, is transformation happening, can you confidently say that all legal practitioners, male, female, black or white are accessing equal opportunities in the legal fraternity or do we still have a long way to go?

PR: The legal fraternity has come a long way from its discriminating, oppressive, patriarchy practices done to exclude black lawyers and females during the Apartheid era. However, we still have not come to a full transformation as certain marginalising factors prevent black lawyers and females from acquiring certain job opportunities, as these job opportunities are still predominately held by white and male members of the legal fraternity.

KR: What is the one thing that you would change about legal education in SA?

PR: The only thing in which I would add to the legal education system in SA is that in the final year of one’s LLB a structured educational experience outside the classroom should be a prerequisite and not an elective.

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

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