‘Compromise’ Legal Practice Bill passed by committee

A significantly different version of the Legal Practice Bill tabled in Parliament at the beginning of the year was adopted yesterday by the National Assembly’s Justice and Constitutional Development Committee, although both the DA and the ACDP opposed it in its entirety, notes a Legalbrief Policy Watch report.

According to committee chair Luwellyn Landers, had the ANC known that this would be the outcome of the process, ‘they would not have conceded to some of the things they did’. Nevertheless – and assuming that the remainder of the Bill’s passage through Parliament goes smoothly – the proposed new statute will establish a Legal Practice Council to tackle the nuts and bolts of fundamentally transforming the legal profession one way or another. There appeared to be a sense of deep disappointment on the part of ANC committee members that – in what Mathole Motshekga referred to as ‘good faith’ and the best interests of ‘nation building’ – the committee has produced a ‘compromise Bill’ when, in fact, a great deal more could have been done to address what is widely considered to be a fundamental need for change. While the ACDP’s Steve Swart expressed appreciation for the concessions that have been made, the DA’s Dene Smuts made it abundantly clear that her intention was never to support a piece of legislation pivotal to which is the establishment of a structure (the council) that in itself undermines the independence of the legal profession. ‘This is the first time in the life of the committee that we have not found each other,’ she said, adding that – had another year been available in which to work on the Bill – a far superior piece of legislation could have been crafted.

Regarding the composition of the council – and noting concerns that it may ‘not facilitate an independent profession’ – a draft committee report on the Bill referred to a provision in terms of which the profession will elect 16 out of the 23 council members to be appointed to drive the transformation process. Of these, it is envisaged that 10 will be attorneys and six advocates – reflecting the numbers of attorneys and advocates practising in each arm of the profession. Acknowledging key concerns in some circles regarding the Minister’s powers to dissolve the council and the onerous implications of compulsory community service for many legal practices, the draft report sought to reassure critics. It drew attention to ‘checks in place’ aimed at averting the possible abuse of Ministerial power and the processes to be followed, including an investigation by the Ombud. The Bill now provides for exemptions from community service under certain circumstances. A second-reading debate on the Bill has been scheduled for 12 November.

Published by Legal Brief on 7 November 2013

‘Compromise’ Legal Practice Bill passed by committee

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