Cape Town - Retired Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai has been appointed Legal Services Ombudsman by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Desai will serve in the role for seven years with the mandate to advance and safeguard the legal profession by investigating complaints and alleged maladministration.
The president said: “Judge Desai has devoted the greater part of his life to serving the nation as a judge. 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.”
Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola welcomed the appointment.
“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 than Judge Desai. (He has) practised as an attorney and advocate, and a cherry on top is him having served as a distinguished judge in our constitutional democracy.
“He understands the intricacies and challenges of both streams of the profession. We look forward to working with him and the entire profession in our quest to improve access to justice for our people.”
Former Public Protector, Professor Thuli Madonsela, congratulated Desai on the new job.
“Congratulations to Judge Siraj Desai on being appointed Legal Services Ombud,” she wrote on Twitter. “So many Gogo Dlaminis need protection from predatory and negligent lawyers.”
Provincial chair of the ANC Youth League in the Western Cape, Khalid Sayed, also tweeted his support.
“Congratulations to the people’s judge, the Western Cape’s very own Justice Siraj Desai, on his appointment as the Legal Services Ombud by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“He will bring his ideological clarity, brilliant juristic ability and passion for social justice to his new role.”
Desai, 69, has a legal career spanning 43 years and has been instrumental in many judgments which put murderers behind bars.
In an interview with the Weekend Argus, he revealed his humble beginnings as a shoe salesman.
“When I was a student in Durban, I worked as a salesman at a shoe shop. It was my cousin’s shoe shop. I could sell shoes in English and in Zulu, but it's basically asking what colour shoes you want and what size you want. They sold all types of shoes. Men’s and ladies shoes, upmarket shoes, but they used to sell slippers and sandals and that sort of thing. This was in the heart of Durban’s Grey Street. I was about 18.”
When Desai became a judge, it took time for the weight of his role to sink in.
“I don’t think then that we understood the importance of my job. I did some of the major criminal trials in the Cape over the last 10 or 20 years, and none of my criminal convictions has ever been reversed by the high courts, but they were challenging matters to hear. As I said on many occasions, the most difficult was Najwa (Petersen) because she and the deceased come from the exact same community I come from.
“Then, of course, there is the Valencia Farmer case that was very difficult because of such savage brutality. I was sentencing very young offenders, and I don’t give life sentences easily. The same really applied in the case of Henri van Breda, he was also a young man.”