Durban -

The KwaZulu-Natal legal fraternity is in crisis with the provincial law society effectively shut down, meaning no new attorneys can be admitted, nor can existing ones be disciplined or struck off.

All members were emailed by society director Gavin John on Tuesday, advising them that due to an internal dispute, the society had become “dysfunctional” because of in-fighting between lawyers who sat on its council.

Some are now trying to force the society to hold a special general meeting of all members in an attempt to resolve the conflict which effectively has seen half the 20-member council walk out.

One attorney said: “This is a disgrace – that qualified, admitted lawyers whose job is dispute resolution cannot resolve what is clearly a political fight. It’s not on. It’s childish.”

“Now’s a good time to raid trust accounts,” commented another.

The society’s president, Poobie Govindasamy, who is also a member of the National Democratic Lawyers Association (Nadel), confirmed that members of Nadel and the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) had “withdrawn their participation” in all matters, including dealing with admissions, strike-off applications and disciplinary inquiries.

He said this was because they did not support a proposal to fund a new lawyers’ association, the SA Attorneys Association.

“It is going to affect the public and the courts because no applications will be made by the society for admissions or strike-off. We hope this can be resolved as soon as possible.”

In the 1990s the KZN Law Society, a statutory body, expanded the size of its council from 12 to 20 members, giving the BLA and Nadel five seats each and the traditional members 10 seats.

Govindasamy said the attorneys’ association, which had the backing of some “traditional members”, had asked for R160 000 in funding from the society last December, which was rejected by Nadel and the BLA at the budget meeting last month, their members saying if they recognised this association, they would have to recognise all others.

He said the Law Society of South Africa – a non-statutory national body – had been expected to deal with the dispute two weeks ago, but, as yet, had not, and until the dispute was resolved, the society could not function.

Attorney Praveen Sham, who is both a traditional council member and president of the attorneys’ association, said the BLA and Nadel told a slightly different version.

He said the attorneys’ association had received funding last year, but had not applied for any this year.

He said BLA and Nadel members were refusing to approve funding for any projects undertaken by traditional council members because they suspected the money would be given to the SA Attorneys Association.

Sham said it was suggested that the dispute be resolved by the entire membership at a special general meeting – and this proposal was with the director – but the BLA and Nadel members insisted it go to the Law Society of SA.

He said while the rules dictated that all council members had to be elected, in the past the practice was for “traditional members” to be elected and those representing Nadel and the BLA to be appointed by their organisations.

“At this general meeting we will ask for the rule to be enforced and all members to be elected,” Sham said.

Law society co-chairman and Nadel president Max Boqwana said the matter would be discussed at the law society’s management committee meeting tomorrow.

He said the national body had set up a task team to look into the matter.

“Once the task team has deliberated, then the matter can be resolved.”

The Mercury