Semenya: Controversy a result of palace coup agitators

2013-02-17 10:00

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Advocate Ishmael Semenya, chairman of the General Council of the Bar, said there was “no doubt that there are elements of the practice of law which government has the power to regulate”.

Semenya said the Bar’s position on the bill was not that it was perfect, but rather that it supported the idea of regulation and a unified legal practice.

“At the moment we have the General Council of the Bar, the Independent Association of Advocates, National Forum of Advocates, as well as various individuals who go to court without any kind of in-service training.

“What the act intends to do is regulate all those structures,” he said.

Semenya points out that section 22 of the Constitution allows for any trade, occupation or profession to be regulated by law.

“If it is governance (of the legal profession), government has no role to play.

“If it is regulation, government does have a role to play,” he said.

Semenya said that there was nothing in the bill that prevented voluntary associations of attorneys or advocates from continuing to exist.

“Currently, we have regulatory capacity, which is properly not the province of practitioners.”

He hastens to add that “the bill will not pass constitutional muster if it doesn’t result in an independent legal profession”.

Semenya said the Bar did not support the provision in the bill that allows the minister to dissolve the Legal Practice Council, because it was plainly unconstitutional.

He also said the Bar was concerned about the provisions relating to a transitional council.

Referring to the fact that the minister may appoint three people to the council, Semenya said the profession cannot claim to look after issues of public interest to the exclusion of publicly elected officials.

Semenya said Smuts’ contention that the bill paid “lip service” to transformation of the legal profession was “patently incorrect”.

“I think the Johannesburg Bar had 400 or 500 pupilage applications, but it could only take just under 100 of those.”

Semenya concedes that “to get everyone inside the house” may cost more money, but he said the system as it currently stood was “restrictive”.

He said the bar would attempt to press its case with the portfolio committee of justice and constitutional development when hearings start next week.

Asked about the divisions caused in the legal profession, Semenya said he thought there were “agitators for a palace coup”.

“They want the status quo to remain and they want the profession to remain outside any regulation, but that will not solve the problem of a bunch of fragmented practitioners,” said Semenya.

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