President aware of public debate on Legal Practice Bill

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma says he is aware that the introduction of the Legal Practice Bill has elicited robust and fierce public debates within the legal profession.

Addressing the 70th annual General Meeting of the Johannesburg Attorneys Association on Thursday evening, Zuma said government has over the last 15 or more years, been trying to facilitate consensus within the various formations in the legal profession on how a transformed and rationalised legal profession should be regulated.

"Already the legal profession is regulated primarily by the Advocates Act, Attorneys Act and the State Attorney Act, all of which are old-order laws which were not meant for the post 1994 democratic society.

"It is therefore important that the old-order legislation be substituted by a law that conforms to the values that underpin the Constitution. The Legal Practice Bill is one of such laws," the President said.

The legal profession was asked to come forward with a consensus model as government was anxious not to be seen to be interfering with or impeding on the independence of the legal profession. The Bill has its origins in the Constitution.

He further said the regulatory structure in the form of a National Legal Practice Council will set the norms and standards for the profession.

These will include the admission requirements and the regulation of fees with a view to keeping the cost of legal services within the reach of people, in particular the poor and the vulnerable members of society.

It will also include community legal service through which new entrants to the profession will be dispensed to rural communities as part of their training.

In the attorneys profession, out of the total number 21 007 attorneys, 13 643 are White, which constitutes 64.9 percent. There are 7142 females who constitute 33.9 percent.

These statistics are not commensurate with the population demographics of the country in which women are in the majority.

To boost transformation, in May this year, government announced it will ensure that 70 percent of the legal briefs of government are allocated to previously disadvantaged practitioners.

"We urge the profession to do everything possible to promote interest in the law amongst the youth in order to increase the intake in particular of black and women students.

"Without active interventions and promotion of the profession and diversity, speedier change will not happen.

"I know that the profession shares this concern. I trust that the Annual General Meeting will also find time to reflect on such critical nation building issues," he said.

The President also emphasised the need to move with speed in repealing and substituting old-order legislation that still governs the legal profession in various parts of the country.

Some of these statutes still apply in parts of the country that were part of the old regime before 1994. Others apply in areas that were former homelands.

Some of these laws include the Bophuthatswana Admission of Advocates Act, the Transkei Admission of Advocates Act, the Venda Admission of Advocates Act, the Bophuthatswana Attorneys Act, the RSA Attorneys Act of 1979 and Admission of Advocates Act of 1964.

As part of encouraging the transformation process, government has introduced the Discussion Document on the transformation of the Judicial System and the role of the Judiciary in a developmental South African state.

President Zuma said Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe will provide a progress report of this important work at the appropriate time.

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