Cape Town - The Legal Practice Bill could be challenged in court, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said on Wednesday.
“My suspicion is there may even be litigation about the Legal Practice Bill because there are concerns about the role of the (justice) minister. There are concerns about how that bill is going to operate,” he said in the Western Cape High Court.
Mogoeng said it would be improper for him or others in the judiciary to comment on the effects the bill would have on the legal profession.
“Now if the judge president or any of the judges present here, including myself, are to comment on it, you run the risk of having to be forced to recuse yourself when the matter comes before your court. So I think we would do well as judges to reserve any comment we would have.”
Mogoeng said “tempers are running high” in the legal profession, after the National Assembly approved the bitterly-contested bill last month.
The proposed law has far-reaching implications for the legal profession. It will bring an end to the long tradition of self-regulation by the legal fraternity.
It will replace bar associations with a single council, which the minister of justice can dissolve if he loses confidence in it.
Many advocates and attorneys have expressed opposition to the bill, saying it would interfere with the independence of the legal profession.
Opposition parties also objected to the bill, but it was passed by the African National Congress majority.
The ruling party said the bill was needed to ensure transformation in the profession.
The legislation makes provision for community service for law graduates, establishes an ombudsman for legal services, and sets out more transparent disciplinary processes for legal practitioners.
The Law Society of SA has pleaded for ministerial powers to be limited, and has warned that if the legislation curtails the profession's independence, the courts will lose their independence.