'Unwarranted personal attacks' from Presidency shuts down debate on NCCC - Craig Watt-Pringle

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Chairperson of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa, Craig Watt-Pringle SC, has written a letter in his personal capacity to say he is "deeply concerned" about personal attacks on two advocates from the director general and secretary of the Cabinet, Dr Cassius Lubisi.

Advocates Nazeer Cassim SC and Erin-Dianne Richards wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa last month via RHK Attorneys, questioning the Presidency's National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC). They also indicated their concern over the possible risk of constitutional and democratic malfunctioning.

READ: Advocates jeopardising measures to save lives after they question NCC, says presidency

But in a letter dated 5 May, Lubisi defended the establishment of the NCCC, which is led by Ramaphosa, as a co-ordinated body established to facilitate work, and given authority by Cabinet. He lambasted Cassim and Richards, saying they were "putting in jeopardy measures taken to save South African lives".

Watt-Pringle suggested Lubisi's letter put in doubt the status of Cassim and Richards as officers of the court.

"We trust that the above addresses your concerns.

"Should it not, we invite your clients to constructively propose alternatives rather than threaten us with litigation. Their insistence on putting in jeopardy all measures taken to save South African lives and ensure security of public health is not commensurate in our respectful view with their positions as officers of the court," Lubisi wrote, according to Watt-Pringle.

He said Lubisi's reply was concerning because he suggested "that the letter sent on the instructions of two practising advocates is conduct not commensurate with their status as officers of the court, which implies unprofessional of improper conduct on their part".

"Their professional status as advocates is irrelevant and the slur on their behaviour 'as officers of the court', is both unwarranted and regrettable," Watt-Pringle said.

READ: Craig Watt-Pringle: Personal attack by president's DG on advocates shuts down debate about NCC 

In an email sent directly to the Presidency, Cassim has since requested that Lubisi retract the remarks.

Watt-Pringle wrote that his letter seemed to indicate that Lubisi wanted to "close down" the debate regarding the NCCC.

"It is a matter of concern that Dr Lubisi, who speaks for the Presidency and possibly also for the Cabinet, appears to have sought to close down the debate about the executive's adherence to the rule of law by casting aspersions on the propriety of the conduct of Cassim SC and Richards, by invoking their status as advocates when, in fact, they are expressly acting as private citizens and their conduct does not amount to improper conduct by virtue of their professional status as advocates and officers of the court," he said.

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