Durban - The promulgation of the new Legal Practice Bill was a “historic event”, a national lawyers’ society said on Wednesday.
The bill, which was signed into law by President Jacob Zuma last week, dealt with the practice of law as it should be post-1994, said Durban attorney Ashwin Trikamjee, who described it as “long overdue”.
“Everyone, like the Law Society of SA, local organisations and the bar councils, also made representations,” he said.
The Legal Practice Act would see a legal services ombudsman established and that was also to be welcomed.
The Law Society of SA (LSSA) hailed the signing of the bill into law as a “historic event for the legal profession as it signals the formal start to a new dispensation”, said co-chairmen Max Boqwana and Ettienne Barnard.
It would usher in a “transparent, transformed, public-centred and responsive profession”, they said.
A three-year transitional phase would come into effect once the part of the act dealing with the national forum for the legal profession, was proclaimed.
“This will indicate the start of a negotiation process between stakeholders to put in place the nuts and bolts and will ensure the proper and efficient functions of a Legal Practice Council,” the LSSA said.
Provincial councils would be set up to help in the daily operations.
All lawyers – advocates and attorneys – would for the first time fall under a single overarching regulatory body, the SA Legal Practice Council.
Although there will be a single regulatory body, the act allows advocates and attorneys to continue in their respective areas of specialisation.
Although the two branches of the profession had no contact about the bill for years, they decided at the beginning of 2012 to set up a joint technical committee to work on a position paper – and then their views moved closer together.
The Legal Practice Council “would both protect and inform the public, as well as ensure a strong, independent, vibrant and effective legal profession”, Boqwana and Barnard said.
Spokesman for the Presidency, Mac Maharaj, said the lengthy deliberations during the bill’s passage through Parliament ensured its many provisions had been thoroughly considered.
This was aimed at ensuring a legal profession that was transformed and independent.
The council would also play a crucial role in the professional conduct of legal practitioners and would develop a single code of conduct.
Although the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), as well as other legal bodies, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday because of the public holiday, the BLA said in a press release last year that it considered the bill to be a well-rounded piece of proposed legislation.
It balanced the transformation agenda of the legal profession while at the same time did not compromise the independence of the profession.