Pretoria advocate may face criminal probe

2011-09-01 20:25

Pretoria - A Pretoria advocate and attorneys who allegedly helped him to "milk" the Road Accident Fund (RAF) of up to R237 400 for just one day's work might face a criminal investigation.

The Pretoria Society of Advocates (PSA) asked a full bench of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Thursday not only to strike the name of advocate French Bezuidenhout off the roll of advocates, but also to refer him and his instructing attorneys to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Law Society.

The PSA asked the court to confirm fines and periods of suspension imposed on 12 other prominent Pretoria advocates, but the General Council of the Bar asked the court to strike them off the roll too.

The 12 admitted guilt on a range of charges relating to accepting more than one case for the same court date (so-called double-briefing) and charged the RAF full trial fees for each case (referred to as overreaching).

Bezuidenhout denied any wrongdoing, claiming he was acting in the public interest, and refused to open his books to the PSA.

Advocate Quintus Pelser SC, appearing for the PSA, argued that Bezuidenhout, through his conduct, relegated the Bar to a mere money-making trade and had discredited the profession of advocates.

He said it appeared that attorneys had "merrily" worked to tap the RAF.

The tapping of the fund was so serious that one of the senior advocates involved told a disciplinary committee that "if it rains porridge, you must scoop".

"... This court cannot close its eyes. The obvious thing to do is to refer the case of the respondent (Bezuidenhout) and the attorneys who were identified in court papers to the DPP," he said.

Pelser said it appeared from Bezuidenhout's VAT invoices that he appeared in 803 trials over a period of 152 court days in 2009, and on one single day charged the RAF over R237 000.

For the total of 871 trials (of which only 34 did not involve the RAF) in which he appeared in 2009, he had debited over R10.2m.

Of all the trials he did for or against the RAF that year, he only consulted in 4,4 percent of the cases and it appeared he never intended to go on trial, but intended to settle all of the cases.

Pelser said it was difficult to see how Bezuidenhout could have done justice to his clients' cases and it was naive to suggest that his conduct was not dishonest.

He argued that Bezuidenhout still held himself out to be "the hero in the story" who was busy with a public duty, but there were many other advocates who did road accident work without contravening the rules pertaining to double-briefing and overreaching.

Counsel for Bezuidenhout, Peet Delport SC, argued that the contraventions his client committed were no worse than those committed by the other 12 advocates and that the court should not look at only the figures.

He said the PSA itself had not acted strictly against double-briefing during that period.

Delport said Bezuidenhout's view at the time was that he could not be charged with double-briefing unless there was a complainant.

The application continues.

- SAPA

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