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Justice Minister Jeff Radebe's initiative to transform state legal services should be welcomed, the Democratic Alliance said on Monday.
“State legal services have been in a chaotic state for some time,” DA MP Debbie Schafer said in a statement.
“In many cases, litigants against the state wait for years before their claims reach finalisation, by which time they are often deceased or bankrupt.”
She also welcomed the plan to ensure state legal work was more equitably distributed to the private sector.
“It has been historically difficult for women and black legal practitioners to secure briefs in the larger and more complicated legal matters due to historic discrimination and the false perception that, unless you belong to a large firm you are not a good lawyer,” Schafer said.
“We are, however, concerned that the minister is once again trying to address issues by means of legislation and policy documents when the real issue is the failure of management resulting from weak political leadership.”
Earlier in the day, Radebe said the new policy framework sought to tackle a need for efficient, co-ordinated legal services, and to promote the values and obligations arising from the Constitution.
“ 1/8This was done 3/8 to have one set of norms and standards of the legal profession,” he said in Johannesburg at a New Age briefing on the transformation of the justice system.
The policy framework was released by Radebe on Monday.
Radebe said women and previously disadvantaged individuals were being overlooked within the profession.
While the state was a large consumer of legal services in the country, state legal services were hampered by a lack of a comprehensive set of rules governing how litigation services were dispensed, acquired, managed, and monitored.
“It was evident that the cake was not shared,” he said.
The goal of the policies was a transformed, integrated, professional, cost-effective, and highly skilled state legal service.
A head of state legal services, or solicitor general, would be appointed as a matter of urgency, Radebe said.
When asked why this was being implemented now, Radebe said he had been in office since 2009 and that “there has been an outcry”.
“The public sector must come to the party. I am confident that it can be implemented.”
Radebe's announcement came amid plans to table draft legislation intended to regulate legal tariffs.
According to a report last week Radebe revealed plans to scrap bar councils and the law society and replace them with a state-influenced body.
On Thursday, Nonkululeko Sindane, director general of justice and constitutional development, said in Parliament the focus of the legislation would ultimately be the consumers of legal services.
“The current system prevents broader access because of the high costs of lawyers and other legal representatives. The draft legislation will at least give us a starting point to deal with sticking points so that more people have access to the law,” Sindane said.
The draft legislation would make provision for a single national legal practitioners' board for advocates and lawyers.
Radebe said state legal adviser Enver Daniels certified the draft legislation earlier that week.
In February, Radebe released a discussion document on judicial transformation.
It stated the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal would be reviewed to establish the extent to which their decisions had contributed to the reform of South African jurisprudence and law.
Draft legislation intended to make legal services affordable for ordinary South Africans by regulating tariffs would soon be tabled in Parliament. - Sapa