Workshop boosted confidence of attorneys to appear in the High Court

February 1st, 2017

By Ivan Ka-Mbonane

On 30 September and 1 October, the Black Lawyers Association Legal Education Center (BLA-LEC) arranged an informative and insightful workshop at the Middelburg Magistrate’s Court. The workshop was primarily targeted at equipping attorneys and advocates with skills aimed at assisting them to successfully run High Court litigation. The workshop was introduced at an apt time, with the opening of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court and the recent establishment of Circuit Courts, in consultation with the Minister of Justice, in accordance with s 6(7) of the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013.

The workshop was attended by both attorneys and advocates. The majority of attorneys said they wanted to run their High Court litigation on their own, starting off with unopposed motions and slowly moving to opposed motions and eventually, deal with complex legal matters. The judges who facilitated the workshop encouraged attorneys to adopt this approach and start litigating in the High Court. The workshop assisted attendees, particularly those who are attorneys, with the necessary skills required for litigation in the High Court. It further assisted attendees to understand the behavioral patterns of the judges and to act in accordance with their expectations.

The content of the workshop was both educative and informative as it was offered by senior judges and Senior Counsel.

Ethics and court demeanor

Former Judge President of the Free State High Court, Judge Cagney John Musi, shared a perspective from the Bench and focussed on ethics, court demeanor and etiquette. Judge Musi dealt with the ethical behavior that is expected from practitioners and the manner in which they should always carry themselves in court particularly during litigation. Judge Musi touched on practical aspects of ethical behavior, he gave a practical example on how to advance a client’s case without perpetuating their lies. This, to attendees, was important as they were taught how to be persuasive without misleading the court, an aspect which is important and required from an officer of the court. Judge Musi also explained how to avoid arguing with a judge, which if not handled well could lead to unnecessary conflicts between practitioners and judges, a situation which must be avoided at all times to preserve the integrity of the court.

Court rules and practice directives

Gauteng Division High Court, Judge Malesela Francis Legodi, touched on the importance of practitioners familiarising themselves with court rules and practice directives. He encouraged attendees to desist from approaching the courts without having familiarised themselves with a practice directive applicable in the jurisdiction one is appearing. He also gave a detailed discussion on how to draft structured and logical heads of arguments.

Sequestration applications, default and summary judgments

Gauteng Division High Court, Judge Tati Makgoka dealt with sequestration applications, default judgments, as well as summary judgments. Judge Makgoka’s part of the presentation was very helpful to the attendees as the type of matters he dealt with are prevalent within Mpumalanga and are matters which attorneys have to acquaint themselves with, so that they can appear on behalf of their clients.

Judge Makgoka touched on sequestration applications, as well as r 43 applications and explained what the courts are particularly looking for in such applications. He explained that there may be an opposition, which appears to be from the Bench particularly if one’s papers are not in order. He stressed the importance of making sure that one’s papers, as a practitioner, are always in order and well drafted and structured.

Urgent applications

Judge Phatudi dealt in detail with urgent applications and a proper approach to r 6(12) of the Uniform Rules of the Court. He shared the proper approach to urgent applications and how attorneys should be careful in assessing the urgency and in presenting urgent applications. This part of the presentation was encouraging, as most attendees have to deal with urgent applications from time to time, and also find it difficult to do so without the assistance of advocates. After this presentation, the approach towards urgent applications seemed to have become clearer and most of the attendees seem to have felt comfortable to be in a position to adequately assess urgency and deal with such applications with less assistance from advocates.

Opposed motions

Advocate William Mokhari SC dealt with opposed motions, as well as drafting affidavits and what should be contained in the affidavits. He emphasised the importance of reading the law – particularly case law – prior to drafting legal documents to avoid a situation where, at a later stage, heads of argument would be in conflict with founding papers and advised on the proper approach to litigation. Mr Mokhari’s approach to drawing legal documents and to litigation in general, assisted attendees – particularly attorneys – to be able to draft their own papers with confidence and to probably appear in High Court and move their own applications. Mr Mokhari also emphasised the importance of hard work in ensuring that attorneys protect their client’s rights and interest. He insisted that there is no substitute for hard work in law. The workshop encouraged attorneys to appear in the High Court and move their own applications and also assisted attorneys in preparing to appear in the High Court. The workshop has had an impact in the transformation of the legal profession, and the attorneys who were encouraged by the judges will appear in the High Court and gain invaluable experience, which will make it easier for them to be eligible for judicial appointments.

It is important for a BLA-LEC to conduct a series of these workshops not only in Mpumalanga but across the country in order to prepare particularly black practitioners to appear in the High Court and do their own High Court litigation. Of great interest about the workshop is that it was presented by senior judges and a senior advocate, this has assisted attendees to have a better approach and perspective to litigation.

I, therefore, wish to encourage attorneys in and outside the Province of Mpumalanga to take advantage of such workshops and equip themselves with the necessary skills required by the demands of the legal profession.

Ivan Ka-Mbonane is an attorney at Ka-Mbonane Inc in Johannesburg and an instructor at LEAD.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Jan/Feb) DR 13.