Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe. Photo: Sizwe Ndingane

Legislation intended to transform and restructure the legal profession will soon be tabled in Parliament, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said on Thursday.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question, he said the legal profession was still not representative of the country's demographics.

Entry into the profession was, in many instances, determined by outdated, unnecessary and overly restrictive prescripts.

Access to legal services, especially by the poor, was limited.

The bill sought to correct these shortcomings by uniting the legal profession and regulating it by means of a single statute.

Radebe said an SA Legal Practice Council, which would be elected largely by members of the profession, would put in place norms and standards for all legal practitioners.

Envisaged regional or provincial structures would deal largely with operational issues.

A single code of practice for legal practitioners was also envisaged.

The regulatory structures, however, “leave space” for the recognition of differences between advocates and attorneys and the way they operated.

“It might be said that the bill democratises the regulatory structures which, in turn, will pave the way in order to take the transformation agenda to its logical conclusion,” Radebe said.

The bill aimed to ensure that legal services were affordable and within the reach of the citizenry.

While seeking to attain these objectives the bill recognised the independence of the legal profession.

It sought to strengthen this independence but also to ensure accountability by the legal profession to the public.

It provided for obligatory community service, not only by candidate legal practitioners, but also by practising lawyers, advocates and attorneys.

This would contribute enormously to access to justice, he said.

The bill provided for an office of legal services ombud to protect and promote the interests of consumers of legal services.

The bill had been submitted to the chief state law advisor for certification.

“It is hoped that the certification process will be finalised soon, where-after the bill will be introduced into Parliament.

“I am anxious that the bill be introduced into Parliament before the close of the 2011 session ... and that deliberations on the bill commence in earnest at the start of the 2012 parliamentary session,” Radebe said. – Sapa