News24

Legal Aid SA improving success rate

2012-10-09 20:18

Cape Town - Legal Aid SA drew praise from MPs on Tuesday for an improved case success rate, but conceded running into trouble for failing to be tax compliant in the past financial year.

CEO Vidhu Vedalankar said the entity had contracted with a number of legal practitioners who had not supplied tax clearance certificates.

This earned it a note of non-compliance from Auditor General Terence Nombembe, and on Tuesday, a remark from Democratic Alliance MP Debbie Schafer that the situation was "shocking".

Nombembe faulted Legal Aid SA for giving work to lawyers "whose tax matters had not been declared by the SA Revenue Service to be in order".

Vedalankar said the non-compliance mainly referred to failing to get tax certificates from lawyers in cases that cost more than R30 000.

She said Legal Aid SA had sought to remedy the situation by instituting a rule that all legal practitioners on its database had to supply tax clearance certificates in advance.

Schafer said Vedalankar's responses to questions from MPs raised serious concerns that lawyers were practising without being registered tax payers.

The disclosures to MPs included that about a quarter of lawyers told about the new requirement informed Legal Aid SA that they did not wish to comply.

Said Schafer: "In other words, they would rather not receive work from Legal Aid than obtain a tax certificate. This raises concerns that they may not be registered to pay tax and thus do not qualify for one."

Another 25 percent of the lawyers were in the process of obtaining tax certificates.

Reporting on the entity's successes, Vedalankar said it had supplied legal aid to 682 962 people in the past year, mostly in criminal cases.

She said it had achieved a success rate of 66% in criminal appeal matters, contradicting a perception that it provided second-rate representation to clients.

"It is our best year," she told MPs, and said the average success rate in the Supreme Court of Appeal in the same period was 54%.