DA criticises Legal Practice Bill for "fusing" attorneys and advocates

Posted 04 September 2013 Written by Wyndham Hartley
Category Justice

AFRICAN National Congress (ANC) members of Parliament’s justice committee have been trying to curtail debate on the Legal Practice Bill, which the Democratic Alliance calls "fusion by stealth", as it drops separate chambers for attorneys and advocates, according to Business Day.

The bill, in its current form, provides for a legal practice council representing both attorneys and advocates but controversially with a majority of attorneys in its composition. In discussions, the committee has avoided "fusing" the two branches of the legal profession to retain the distinction between attorneys and advocates, but creating a "unified" regulator. The Democratic Alliance (DA) and African Christian Democratic Party have strongly argued for separate chambers for attorneys and advocates. But the ANC, equally strongly, has rejected the notion saying it would not achieve the transformation intended in the bill.

DA MP Dene Smuts said in Tuesday’s meeting of the committee that the long title of the bill should be changed to provide for the "rationalisation and restructuring of the legal professions" and not their transformation. She said the key issue was to separate the regulatory functions that reside with the Law Society and General Council of the Bar and place them in two chambers within the council. The representative functions would remain with the current bodies that looked after the "self interests" of the professions.

Acting committee chairman Jonas Sibanyoni said this debate had already occurred in the committee’s deliberations and it was clear there were opposing views on the issue.

He said that to keep on debating when "it is obvious that we can’t reach agreement, would be fruitless". Mr Sibanyoni received strong support from the ANC’ s Mathole Motshekga who insisted rationalisation and restructuring was about "form" and what was needed was the "substance of transformation".

Ms Smuts warned many would be lining up to challenge the bill in court and told the committee that the DA would not be able to support a bill that "constitutes fusion by stealth".

It also emerged that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is again in trouble with the committee following an interview in Noseweek in which she suggested that MPs went behind her back to talk to her newly appointed deputy Kevin Malunga.

Ms Madonsela’s relationship with the committee has been fractious recently after arguments about the jurisdiction of the public protector and the oversight role of the committee. This led Mr Malunga to write to the committee distancing himself from the "unpleasant altercation" between Ms Madonsela and members of the committee.

Ms Madonsela was to have appeared before the committee early last month to discuss allegations of maladministration in her office made by her former deputy Maimiki Shai. Also on the agenda was an interview she gave to the Times suggesting there were political forces behind the attacks on her.

Last week committee chairman Luwellyn Landers confirmed that in addition to the two matters the next meeting with Ms Madonsela would also discuss her annual report.

When the committee met on Tuesday Ms Smuts drew attention to the Noseweek interview which had a headline suggesting Ms Madonsela had been "stabbed in the back" by MPs who had colluded with Mr Malunga. She said no committee members had met Mr Malunga outside of the committee and "there is now a conflict of facts and can this matter be added to the list of things to be discussed with Ms Madonsela when she next comes to see us?".

Mr Sibanyoni said the committee did want to see Ms Madonsela and "the committee would ensure that the finding of a suitable date be expedited and that this matter be added to the list".

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