Advocate admits dishonesty

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Independent Newspapers

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Bloemfontein - One of 13 advocates accused of milking the Road Accident Fund admitted that he had been dishonest but had apologised, the Supreme Court of Appeal heard on Monday.

“When he got a letter from the bar council he said he was dishonest and apologised,” Thillay Pillay's lawyer Aslam Baba told the appeal hearing.

Judge Robert Nugent asked Baba how his client had recorded having dealt with briefs running parallel to each other.

“Seeing people in parallel, that is serious,” Nugent said.

Baba said Pillay claimed it was an administration problem.

Earlier, Baba said Pillay did not plead guilty to over-reaching, but rather to over-charging. He told the court there was a problem with the facts of the matter and a lack of detail relating to the dishonesty element.

However, Nugent said Pillay had been found guilty of over-reaching.

“The fact of the matter is it was over-reaching... Did he act honestly or dishonestly?” Nugent asked.

The two-day appeal hearing follows an application by the General Council of the Bar to strike off the 13 advocates, who are senior members of the Pretoria Bar.

They were found to have accepted multiple cases on the same day (so-called double briefing) and to have charged a full day's fee for each case (over-reaching), a practice which was rife in Pretoria in 2009.

Baba argued his client was young and started his practice only in 2002. He was not aware that he was doing something wrong by marking briefs as trials and charging for them. Pillay had not thought he was acting dishonestly.

Nugent said there were briefs marked as trials, but which did not go to trial.

Judge Lex Mpati said Pillay, in his court papers, said he did know he was acting “so and so”.

Judge Malcolm Wallis noted that Pillay said during a disciplinary hearing he was aware that he could not double brief.

“Was your client aware of the rules? His answer was yes... now his answer is apparently no,” said Wallis.

The SCA also heard arguments on Monday from Peet Delport, representing Toy de Klerk.

The SCA suggested that De Klerk, who charged a trial fee for seven briefs in one day, could be seen to be over-reaching. Nugent asked how De Klerk was able to do this.

Delport explained that when an attorney approached his client, he had been honest and said he had six other briefs.

It was then agreed between De Klerk and the attorney that a trial fee would be charged.

“He prepares the seven briefs, he goes to court, then he will deal with each brief one-by-one,” said Delport.

“At the end of the day, he will settle all seven, or proceed with one or two.”

Nugent said he still did not understand how De Klerk could charge a trial fee if a case did not go to trial.

“You cannot do seven trials in a day. So how can you charge for it?” he asked.

Delport said De Klerk accepted the briefs conditionally.

Advocate Modise Khoza, for Percy Leopeng, said the Pretoria Bar had found there was no dishonesty on his client's side. He said Leopeng had not gone to court with multiple briefs. He had taken on briefs as he settled them, one after the other.

“Why did he plead guilty to double briefing?” Nugent asked.

Khoza said this was part of the plea bargain.

“A time comes when you say let's just get this over with, plead guilty, serve your sentence and get on with your life. On facts, there was no double briefing.”

The matter continues on Tuesday. - Sapa


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