Legal Aid denies guilty plea claims

2012-11-14 19:50

Cape Town -  Legal Aid SA (Lasa) lawyers are not forcing their clients to plead guilty, officials from the organisation told parliament's correctional services portfolio committee on Wednesday.

MPs summoned Lasa to Parliament to respond to criticism that inmates at various prisons around the country were not being allowed to consult with their lawyers, or were simply told to plead guilty.

Lasa chair Dunstan Mlambo said MPs should be aware that all issues raised were based on allegations made by prisoners, and that they were investigated.

"Allegations are made that they [remand detainees] have not seen a lawyer, but when you look at the consultation notes, you see that is not true," Mlambo said.

He rejected notions of detainees being coerced by Lasa lawyers to tender guilty pleas.

"Some people say that they were forced to plead guilty, but you find that actually they pleaded not guilty in court and a trial took place."

Lasa Gauteng regional operations executive Wilna Lambley backed Mlambo, saying the management of guilty pleas was a criticism often levelled at them.

"Candidate attorneys are not allowed to tender a guilty plea without a supervisor signing off on this."

Court record

Lambley said guilty pleas were read into the court record. Judges and magistrates were therefore required to verify from the accused whether their pleas were in accordance with their instructions.

"We have often investigated allegations made by inmates that they have been forced to plead guilty. However, it seems that from our investigations that this is actually not true."

MPs were not impressed with responses, saying their visits to correctional services showed some of Lasa's commitments were not being met.

Committee chairperson Vincent Smith asked the officials to explain allegations of bribery at Johannesburg prison.

"We hear that there's collusion between investigating officers and prosecuting authorities, that when I don't bribe the officer then I don't get my day in court," Smith said.

Officials said they were not aware of these claims, but would investigate.

Mlambo added that courts scheduled appearances.

"Our practitioners are vigilant when the National Prosecuting Authority unnecessarily requests postponements, but at the end of the day we don't control the enrolling of matters."

  • kgabo.mashamaite - 2012-11-14 20:18

    LAB lawyers are always rookies who get their first assignments at the Magistrates Court level and cannot argue to save their clients. The truth of the matter is: they indeed advice their clients to pleade guilty in return of them (LAB lawyers)negotiating a lighter sentence. What Mr Dunston Mlambo and his colleagues are saying is not entirely accurate. If you visit Tembisa and Kempton Park Magistrates Courts in session, you could also hear them arguing.I've seen it more than once. The quetion is: Why an accused person is not allowed to choose his/her own lawyer while using the LAB, like Schabir Shaik et al?

      gawie.keyser.1 - 2012-11-14 20:35

      Kgabo, I agree with you fully.

      anele.mveku - 2012-11-14 20:50

      Kgabo are you a lawyer? I bet u nt one, if u were ud knw its plead not Pleade. - 2012-11-15 07:10

      They do man, because it's a bunch of uneducated fools who are filling the positions. These dumb bastards can't fight your case, because they have no knowledge and just sit there and look nice because they are getting theur salaries at the end of the month. Most of them are black, and in my experience a black is useless coz he just wants maximum pay with minimum work. What a pathetic culture and to top it off, if they can't loaf the whole day, f$%^cking up the country, then the strike. LORD Can no-one see why there was apartheid. How do you help people who have no ambition in life?mxm

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-11-15 07:27

      Nostalgic for Apartheid? What a repellent comment to make, so early in the morning nogal. This is so bizarre that I have difficulty grasping the fact that a living, breathing, thinking person said it. You should go to where your mind could be cured (as the Rev. N. Sithole advised certain Rhodesians).

  • tsietsi.gagai - 2012-11-14 20:48

    This accusation is a widespread public perception. Wher r legal aid attorneys 2 psnly respond? I for one worked at legal aid for 3months. No client can say I eva forced hm/her to plead guilty.

  • firmsly.kabelo - 2012-11-14 21:01

    This isnt just a public perception,its the truth go to court and you'll see it.

  • ray.molekoa.5 - 2012-11-14 21:49

    The LASA lawyers gives you away to the prosecutors to in broad day light . I was in court many times and it was shocking how people's cases were compromised . It\s real bad indeed as some prisoner's cases needed real good lawyers .

  • ray.molekoa.5 - 2012-11-14 21:50

    The LASA lawyers gives you away to the prosecutors to in broad day light . I was in court many times and it was shocking how people's cases were compromised . It\s real bad indeed as some prisoner's cases needed real good lawyers .

  • fidel.mgoqi - 2012-11-15 07:31

    In 2007 was also arrested for alleged DUI, couldn't be bothered to pay for a real lawyer and asked for one of these chumps, met me in court on Monday reeking of alcohol, shouted at me why I was wasting his time and not pleading guilty. Case was later dismissed because of lack of evidence (Breathalyzer unreliable).

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