Legal body rubbishes claims against Phala Phala panelist, says advocates are ‘independent’

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  • Advocates for Transformation came to the defence of Mahlape Sello.
  • Sello, who was one of the Section 89 panel members, was accused of improper conduct.
  • The improper conduct allegation is born out of Sello's previous representation of Ace Magashule.

Advocates for Transformation (AFT) rubbished allegations of improper conduct involving advocate Mahlape Sello SC.

Sello was one of the Section 89 panel members who found that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have violated the Constitution and anti-corruption laws in his Phala Phala dealings.

According to Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, the chairperson of the AFT, the allegation appeared to centre around Sello previously acting for former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule in a case against the party and Ramaphosa.

Magashule challenged his suspension in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg last year.

"The Advocates for Transformation has noted the gratuitous media commentary which seeks to question whether advocate Mahlape Sello SC should have accepted the brief to become a member of the panel established by the Speaker of Parliament, in terms of Section 89 of the Constitution, into certain allegations against the President [Cyril Ramaphosa]," Ngcukaitobi said.

READ | Helter skelter: Inside Ramaphosa's resignation - and his decision to hold on

He said the "innuendo of improper conduct" on the part of Sello was baseless and regrettable.

Sello replaced legal academic and political commentator Richard Calland on the panel after the DA and EFF raised objections about his involvement.

The objections revolved around Calland's perceived bias, in his work as a political commentator, towards Ramaphosa.

Ngcukaitobi said about Sello: 

Advocates are independent and cannot be associated with the causes of their clients. It was thus perfectly legitimate for advocate Sello SC to accept the brief from the Speaker of Parliament. She was not disqualified from acting as a member of the panel merely because she had previously acted for Mr Magashule in unrelated proceedings.

Furthermore, Ngcukaitobi said the AFT was not aware of any allegation that anything transpired in Magashule's case which had any bearing on the work of the Section 89 panel.

The panel, led by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, as well as Judge Thokozile Masipa and Sello, was tasked to assess whether there were prima facie grounds to continue with an impeachment inquiry based on evidence submitted by MPs.

Ngcukaitobi said advocates play a crucial role in ensuring that every person, regardless of their political views or social standing, has access to the legal system.

READ | Two more stages to impeach Ramaphosa - if he stays on to fight

"When advocates accept briefs, they are required to act independently and fearlessly and may not kowtow to political pressure. Personalised attacks against advocates detract from their ability to act independently and in fulfilment of their duties towards their clients and the law," he said.

Sello told Daily Maverick: "The panel, having completed its jobs without you having raised this before, is highly inappropriate. I have no comment."

News24 reached out to Sello and her comment will be added if received.

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