Policy framework marks milestone for transformation of legal system

Monday, May 21, 2012

Johannesburg - Justice Minister Jeff Radebe released a policy framework document on the transformation of state legal services on Monday, describing it as a major milestone in the development of legal services in South Africa.

Addressing The New Age/SABC breakfast briefing in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Monday, the minister said the document was aimed at accelerating transformation.

"The transformation of the judicial system...would be incomplete without the transformation of the legal profession. They are the two sides of the same coin," he said.

The legal profession was the source of training for professional persons to accede to important positions, including the judiciary.

Radebe noted that it was therefore necessary that legal practitioners in both the private and public sector were adequately skilled and that the advancement of women into leadership positions was promoted.

He said the lack of coordination of legal services in government had led to a number of operational challenges. In addition, there was a general outcry in the profession that previously disadvantaged individuals were not being given briefs.

Briefs were not being awarded in an equitable way, the minister explained, adding that women in particular were overlooked due to gender prejudices.

Further to this, previously disadvantaged individuals were not briefed on constitutional matters, many young advocates were not given adequate work and white practitioners got preference over previously disadvantaged individuals.

"All these challenges came against the backdrop that the state is the biggest consumer of legal services, not only in South Africa but Africa," he said.

It was evident that the cake was not being shared equitably.

The policy framework document seeks to remove obstacles and unleash opportunities for all legal practitioners and ensure an equitable distribution of legal work. It is also intended to ensure progression of previously disadvantaged individuals and women in particular, to the judiciary and other positions of responsibility.

The framework will be applicable to affected departments of the Department of Justice.

"A mechanism should be created for sourcing legal work and allocation of briefs to law firms and advocates from a database established for this purpose," the minister added.
The desired mechanism should be with a view to achieving a fair and equitable distribution of legal work.

"As part of the mechanism, a tool will be created, for setting norms and standards in terms of which the work of practitioners will be measured, as well as measuring the transfer of skills through the outsourcing of legal work," Radebe said.

The tool must ensure that previously disadvantaged individuals and new entrants in the legal practice, particularly women are empowered.

It will also address the issuing of legal briefs aimed at promoting and developing skills in multi-discipline of the law and increasing the expertise in the pool of black legal practitioners.

Some of the measures to be applied include that where more than one practitioner is being briefed, at least one practitioner must be a previously disadvantaged individual. Considerations must also be given to practitioners from small legal firms.

The primary objective of the policy framework, in the medium term, is to consolidate and streamline all state legal services under a single functionary who will be appointed as Head of State Legal Services.

"The Head of State Legal Services, who will occupy a position of, or that similar to that of Solicitor-General in comparable jurisdictions, will be the state's chief legal adviser who will represent the state in all civil litigation," he added.

An appointment will also be made in the position as Head of State Legal Services, as a matter of urgency, Radebe said.