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Judge Desai delighted at being appointed as President Ramaphosa's legal services ombud

Judge Desai retired last week after 25 years on the bench. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Judge Desai retired last week after 25 years on the bench. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Dec 23, 2020

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Cape Town - Messages of congratulations continue to pour in after the appointment of one of democratic South Africa’s most renowned judges, the recently retired Judge Siraj Desai, as the Legal Services Ombud to investigate complaints, and alleged maladministration in the legal profession.

Speaking after hearing the news of the appointment Judge Desai, who retired last week after 25 years on the bench, said: “I am delighted and indebted to the president for this honour and I look forward to fulfilling the function with excitement.”

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Asked what message he had for the legal profession, Desai said: “I hope that together we shall raise the bar for ethics in the profession.”

The appointment is with effect from 16 December 2020 for a term of seven years.

Desai is currently the chairperson of the National Council for Correctional Services, a position he will hold until February 2021.

Making the appointment, after discussions with Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, Ramaphosa said he appointed Justice Desai to “advance and safeguard the integrity of the legal profession in the country.”

Ramaphosa said: “Judge Desai has devoted the greater part of his life to serving the nation as a judge and I am confident he will take the legal profession to new heights by ensuring that those in the profession meet the ethical standards required in a legal system that serves all South Africans with fairness and dignity within the rule of law.”

Lamola said: “Judge Desai is one of the best legal minds this country has produced. The president could not have appointed a more qualified, experienced and appropriate jurist.”

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Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council Kathleen Dlepu thanked Ramaphosa and Lamola for the appointment and said: “The Legal Services Ombud in terms of the Legal Practice Act, is empowered to investigate complaints, alleged maladministration, within the scope of the Act, and actions which may affect the integrity of the legal the profession.”

Researcher Mbekezeli Benjamin of judicial monitoring group Judges Matter said: “The Legal Services Ombud is meant to be a flexible process to protect the public interest and hold legal practitioners accountable in the delivery of legal services.”

“The appointment was long overdue. Historically, judges have played a significant role in ensuring legal practitioners adhere to professional ethics, so it’s sensible that a judge is designated as the Ombud.”

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“Judge Desai is well-known for his care for the public interest as a legal practitioner and later as a judge.”

In a message of congratulations former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said: “Congratulations to Judge Siraj Desai on being appointed Legal Services Ombud. So many Gogo Dlaminis need protection from predatory and negligent lawyers.”

ANC provincial spokesperson on education Khalid Sayed said: “Desai is the people’s judge. He will bring his ideological clarity, brilliant juristic ability and passion for social justice to his new role.”

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Desai began his career in 1976 as an articled clerk for struggle stalwart and former cabinet minister, Dullah Omar. During his career Desai made several landmark rulings and has never been shy about always having the interests of the poor and marginalised at heart.

One famous occasion was his landmark ruling on garnishee orders in 2015 which he said was: “A landmark decision which will have a lasting positive effect on the lives of millions of South Africans, most especially the poor.”

The South African branch of Friends Meezaan, a Palestinian Legal and Human Rights Centre posted a message of congratulations in which they said: “We are very proud of our national chairperson Judge Siraj Desai on his appointment. Congratulations Judge Desai, we know very well that no one deserves this position more than you”

Cape Argus

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