Parliament, Tuesday, 12 September 2017 – Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services today held public hearings on the amendments to the Legal Practice Act.
Committee Chairperson, Dr Mathole Motshekga, said the South African public cannot wait another 20 years for the legal profession to transform.
The Committee received several presentations from the legal profession on the matter. This includes the Paralegal Association of South Africa, the National Bar Council of South Africa, the Banking Association of South Africa, the National Forum on the Legal Profession, the Attorneys Fidelity Fund and the Law Society of South Africa. Several of the presenters made calls for amendments other than the prescribed sections that the Committee was assigned to amend.
Dr Motshekga said if the Committee should accede to this request, it would mean that it would have to first request from the National Assembly whether it could amend sections other than the sections referred currently for amendments. The Committee was clear that the legal forum was establish to facilitate radical transformation of the legal profession, which has not happened. “We want delivery of a product and that product is not available. Ordinary people must have access to justice. That product is access to justice by the ordinary people, literate or illiterate.”
The aim of the Bill is to amend the Legal Practice Act of 2014, so as to further regulate the prescription of the areas of jurisdiction of the Provincial Councils, to provide that only practising legal practitioners may perform certain acts or render certain services and to further regulate the duties of banks in respect of trust accounts. The Bill also aims to further regulate the duration of the National Forum on the Legal Profession, to further provide for the functions of the National Forum on the Legal Profession and to further provide for the dissolution date of the law societies.
The Committee said the National Forum on the Legal Profession is a transitional measure, that is supposed to have taken care of facilitation of the transformation of the sector. This body that several of the organisations brought matters to the fore today that never served before them.
The Committee heard that the profession was dealing with entrenched views of the past, where the status quo wants to remain in one form or another. It is a colonial profession that has not fused. “It seems the body has failed and it needs further assistance to ensure transformation.” Dr Motshekga said it is clear that the legal profession needs the inputs of paralegals, article clerks and law student councils to take the transformation agenda
The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) said in its presentation that if this amendment is allowed, it will reverse the gains made since 1995 where attorneys are allowed to appear in the court directly without an advocate. LSSA appealed for training for all to be standardised in order to gain fusion. The Committee was concerned that there are still four provincial LSSA, including former Bantustan law societies.
“We can’t be where we are now at the end of next year. We know where we stand and what needs to be done to take the legal profession forward,” said Dr Motshekga. “Let’s harness all the intellectual resources to effect a radical transformation of the legal system in order to ensure access to justice by all our people.”
The Committee made a call on the Department of Justice to put together a dedicated legal practice team and draw expertise from stakeholders to speed up the process. Stakeholders have also been requested to make direct submissions to the Committee on the roadmap to the transformation of the legal profession.
ISSUED BY PARLIAMENTARY COMMUNICATION SERVICES ON BEHALF OF THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, DR MATHOLE MOTSHEKGA
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