Black Lawyers Association president was suspended based on 'highly disturbing' allegations

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The BLA's president has been suspended.
The BLA's president has been suspended.
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  • Black Lawyers Association president Mashudu Kutama is challenging his suspension in court. 
  • Kutama has filed an urgent application in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg. 
  • BLA secretary-general says Kutama was suspended as a precautionary measure following allegations of misconduct. 

The secretary-general of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) says the decision to suspend the organisation's president Mashudu Kutama, was based on allegations that were not only serious, but "highly disturbing". 

In her answering affidavit filed in court, Mabaeng Lenyai argued that Kutama was suspended as a precautionary measure following allegations of misconduct levelled against him. 

Kutama has filed an urgent application in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, challenging his suspension.

In court papers, Kutama described his suspension as an "ambush", saying he was not afforded an opportunity to make representations on the suspension.

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He argued the suspension was a "palace coup intended to oust me [him] from the BLA presidency and/or to prevent me [him] from running for office when elections are due in a few months' time". 

However, Lenyai said complaints against Kutama were serious in nature. She said on 23 May, the organisation received two complaints against Kutama from women in the BLA Student Chapter.

She said the complaints, while yet to be fully investigated, were "alarming". 

Lenyai added:

The BLA is alive to the fact that the complaints have yet to be fully investigated, tested, verified etc. Mr Kutama fails to appreciate that the complaints have not been elevated to any status of veracity, and he has not been charged, let alone been found guilty in respect of the complaints. What is inescapable, however, is that the complaints are extremely serious.

"It would be premature for the BLA to pursue disciplinary measures at this stage as an independent investigation, although imminent is yet to commence. 

"The fact that the current incumbent of the position of the president of BLA is facing two complaints of misconduct, both of which are extremely serious, has necessitated an independent investigation of the complaints."

Suspend

Meanwhile, in his court application, Kutama wants an order declaring the decision of BLA's national executive committee, taken on 3 June, to suspend him from his duties "suspended with immediate effect", pending the finalisation of a review application.

He wants to be "restored to his position" with immediate effect. Kutama also wants the respondents in the case, which includes the BLA national executive committee (NEC) and general-secretary Lenyai, to pay the costs of the application.

In Part B of his application, he wants the court to declare his suspension "unlawful, invalid and illegal". Kutama wants the decision to be reviewed, corrected and/or set aside.

He argued that the NEC exercised power it did not have in law. He said BLA was "bound by the provisions of the constitution and cannot lawfully act outside of its scope".

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"The suspension is an illegal decision which violates the BLA constitution and/or sanctioned by the BLA constitution and that it takes away my right of fair hearing and rules of natural justice..."

Kutama added his suspension was an "ambush at its worst form".

"This suspension which is perpetual in nature for an indefinite period, is unlawful and tantamount to expulsion for [an] indefinite period".

He argues should he not return to his position, he would "suffer irreparable harm".

"In the eyes of the members of the third respondent [BLA], the legal profession, and the public. 

"I will be deemed guilty before due process is followed. This cannot be repaired whilst I remain suspended on allegations which have not been tested."

But Lenyai said Kutama's application was in any event "stillborn, in that Mr Kutama has failed to establish any urgency in respect of hearing of this matter". 

She argued that the BLA had undertaken to have the investigation conducted as quickly as possible in the interest of all the parties.

"As such, there is no basis for Mr Kutama to suggest that he will lose his position as the president of the BLA if the suspension is not uplifted," she said.

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