Judge Francis Legodi said such attorneys only bother to settle cases on the day of the trial. He has since ordered that in various cases plagued by such a delay that a day’s fee be forfeited.
Judge Legodi also, in many of these cases, ordered the attorneys to file affidavits to him to explain why their conduct should not be reported to the Law Society.
The judge warned that this was only the start of offending attorneys being penalised. He called on his “brothers and sisters” from other divisions to also watch out for these flagrant defaulters of the rules of the court to take away the fees of those who were guilty.
He said it was time that these attorneys felt the pinch in their pockets.
In a judgment dealing with 11 cases - mostly against the Road Accident Fund - Judge Legodi said that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng had issued directives regarding the pace of litigation in courts and how matters should be streamlined.
Justice Mogoeng also issued directives on how cases should be managed to ensure they were ready for trial on the day they went to court.
But the judge said not all legal practitioners adhered to these directives. If they did, he said “we would all be winners”.
“The practice of allowing litigation to run at a snail’s pace to the convenience of practitioners, but at a huge expense to their clients, ought to be arrested and brought to halt. Failing which, the norms and standards would be an uneventful piece of paper,” he said.
Judge Legodi noted that the Constitution stipulated that everyone had the right to have any dispute resolved by the application of law in a fair public hearing.
“Therefore, any delay in finalisation of cases resulting in unnecessary costs of litigation, in my view, impedes on a fundamental right to a fair public hearing. As it is said, justice delayed is justice denied.”
One way of protecting and regulating court processes was to ensure matters did not take months and years before they were finalised.
This could only be done if attorneys stuck to strict timelines and the directives issued by the Chief Justice.
Judge Legodi said judicial officers in any high court had to finalise civil cases within a year from date of issue of summons; within nine months in the magistrate courts.
In his division, he said, more and more cases were settled only on the date of the trial or simply postponed as attorneys did not adhere to the rules or because they simply forgot about cases and did not prepare. It was usually the clients who were left out of pocket, he said.
The time had come for these practitioners to feel it on their own pockets by forfeiting their day fees over late settlement or postponement of cases, he said.