The Legal Practice Bill (B20 of 2012) will drastically affect the governance, structure and regulation of the legal profession and, with the currently strong political will to enact the legislation, the Bill is likely to be on our statute books soon.
Yet, to date, the Bill seems to have weighed on the minds of only a relatively small number of members of the legal profession. This is reflected in the dearth of debate and discussion on the draft legislation and the submissions to parliament relating to it. It does not appear that its reach has extended broadly to most of the 20 000-odd attorneys practising in the country, despite many efforts to highlight its magnitude, including by the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) and its various constituents.
On 7 March the Constitutional Court held a ceremonial court session in honour of the late former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, who passed away in December. Speakers at the service included Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng; President of the Black Lawyers Association, Busani Mabunda; former President of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), Gcina Malindi; a representative of the General Council of the Bar, McCaps Motimele; the chief executive officer of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Nic Swart; and Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Andries Nel.
During the recent bail hearing of murder accused athlete Oscar Pistorius, many people across the world were mesmerised by their PCs, iPads, laptops and smartphones following journalists on Twitter to see what would happen next in the hearing.
On 21 November 2012 the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) placed advertisements calling for nominations to fill 11 vacancies in various superior courts. On 23 February 2013 the JSC compiled a shortlist of candidates to be interviewed in Cape Town on 8 to 12 April 2013. Twenty three candidates were shortlisted, of which 14 are women.
The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) held its annual general meeting in Port Elizabeth from 22 to 23 February. The theme for the AGM was 'Quo vadis NADEL? Where is South Africa heading?' Speakers at the conference included Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Andries Nel; former Constitutional Court Justice Zak Yacoob; Judge Vincent Saldanha of the Western Cape High Court and the Justice Department's acting deputy-director of legislative development and secretary of the Rules Board for Courts of Law, Raj Daya.
The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) is concerned at the shortage of commissioners in the small claims courts around the country. Attorneys are, therefore, urged to make themselves available to serve on a pro bono basis as small claims court commissioners.
Last month the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) echoed the concern expressed by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in his budget speech at the end of February regarding the abuse of emoluments attachment orders that leave workers without money to live on after they have serviced their debts every month.
As a profession, one of the stereotypes that plague attorneys is the tendency to wear legalese as a suit of armour. Many believe attorneys use words as weapons, exaggerating for dramatic effect, overstating to intimidate and confounding with jargon.
On 19 and 20 February the Justice Portfolio Committee (the committee) held public hearings on the Legal Practice Bill (B20 of 2012), which is set to radically change the regulation and governance of the legal profession.
Those granted an opportunity to address the committee were:
The Competition Commission.
The Independent Association of Advocates of South Africa (IAASA).
The Legal Resources Centre (LRC).
The Black Lawyers Association (BLA).
The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA).
The Attorneys Fidelity Fund (AFF).
The General Council of the Bar (GCB).
The Cape Bar Council (CBC).
Advocate Izak Smuts.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
The Association of University Legal Aid Institutions (AULAI).
The employees of the LSSA.
In addition, the committee received written submissions on the Bill from a number of bodies, including the National Association of Democratic Lawyers; law firms Adams & Adams and Webber Wentzel; the Legal Expenses Group Africa; the South African Institute of Race Relations; the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices and the National Task Team on Community-based Paralegals; the Centre for Constitutional Rights; the Constitutional Literacy and Service Initiative; the University of the Witwatersrand Law Clinic; Eskom; the Association of Paralegals Practitioners; as well as several individuals (see p 38).
A number of representatives from the Justice Department attended the hearings, including chief state law adviser Enver Daniels; deputy chief state law adviser responsible for policy development, JB Skosana; chief director of legislative development, Lawrence Bassett; and acting deputy director-general of legislative development and secretary for the Rules Board for Courts of Law, Raj Daya.
Chairperson of the committee, Luwellyn Landers, opened the hearings by referring to the genesis of the Bill. He noted that there had been approximately 15 drafts of the Bill, which he said was 'understandable' due to the nature of the proposed legislation.
'We are expecting robust debate on the Bill and we encourage this. We do not expect you to agree with every single thing. Let us see if we can make this the best product,' Mr Landers concluded before the various bodies began making their oral submissions to the committee.
A synopsis of each of the oral submissions, in the order that they were made, is set out below.
In addition to the oral submissions on the Legal Practice Bill (B20 of 2012), the Justice Portfolio Committee received several written submissions on the draft legislation. This is a summary of those submissions published on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group's website.
De la Guerre v Ronald Bobroff & Partners Inc and Others (GNP) (unreported case no 22645/2011, 13-2-2013) (Fabricius J)
The South African Association of Personal Injury Lawyers v The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development (The Road Accident Fund Intervening) (GNP) (unreported case no 32894/12, 13-2-2013) (Kathree-Setiloane J)
This column discusses judgments as and when they are published in the South African Law Reports, the All South African Law Reports and the South African Criminal Law Reports. Readers should note that some reported judgments may have been overruled or overturned on appeal or have an appeal pending against them: Readers should not rely on a judgment discussed here without checking on that possibility - Editor.