Justice Department silent over criticism of ‘calamitous’ Legal Practice Bill

2012-07-05 00:00

THE Department of Justice has yet to respond to criticisms of the proposed Legal Practice Bill, which has been termed “calamitous” by a senior advocate, Jeremy Gauntlett, in an opinion piece published in Business Day.

A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry, Phumla Sekhonyane, said yesterday the department was looking into the matter and a detailed response would be provided “as soon as it is available”.

Gauntlett’s views, which were published a month ago, following the recent announcement by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe that the bill would imminently go through parliament.

Gauntlett described the bill as the “biggest single threat to an independent legal profession, and so to the courts, in South Africa’s legal history”.

“The bill states as its primary purpose the creation of a unified body to regulate the affairs of legal practitioners.

“This body is to be state-controlled. It is not to have parity in its membership as between attorneys and advocates — although the Law Society of South Africa and the General Council of the Bar had themselves agreed upon this — but a two-thirds preponderance of attorneys.

“They will be elected, but in accordance with a procedure the council determines,” said Gauntlett.

He said the council was to be created by dissolving law societies and bar councils and taking their assets.

“The problem is not merely a brazen seizure of assets and staff. It is the statutory extinction of a profession as it has evolved in South African civil society, including two decades of democracy.

“It is the naivety of thinking that a council meeting four times a year in Pretoria and its regional offshoots can do what law societies and bar councils across the country do daily.

“They provide bursaries, stock libraries, employ administrative staff, train members and subject them to professional examinations, and discipline delinquents, applying to court, if needs be, to strike off.

“They do so at no cost to the state. This is all to go,” Gauntlett said.

Gauntlett disputes Radebe’s promises that the Bill will “cut fees”, provide greater access to justice and achieve “unity” in the profession which, he said, is not fractured.

In his view, the Bill, if adopted, would be “an affront to the rule of law and infringe the Constitution in multiple respects”, and would weaken the courts.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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