Lawyers group blasts Bar chairperson for ‘pre-empting’ Dali Mpofu ‘shut up’ probe
Pretoria - Lobby group the Advocates for Transformation has lambasted the chairperson of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa (GCB), advocate Craig Watt-Pringle, for “pre-empting” the outcome of the probe into the conduct of advocate Dali Mpofu during his showdown with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s lawyer, Michelle le Roux, at the Zondo Commission.
The organisation said yesterday it would lay a complaint of “improper conduct” with the Professional and Fees Committee of the Johannesburg Society of Advocates against Watt-Pringle. This was in relation to a media interview in which Watt-Pringle allegedly pre-empted the probe by saying that Mpofu’s telling Le Roux to “shut up” was outside the parameters of addressing colleagues.
The senior council at the Advocates For Transformation, Fana Nalane, said that Watt-Pringle had delved into the merits of the case during an interview on Newzroom Afrika before the Johannesburg Society of Advocates and Professional Committee of the Johannesburg Society of Advocates could deal with it.
Watt-Pringlee said, after confirming that investigations were under way, that:
“Telling a colleague to ‘shut up’ is way outside the parameters of the manner in which we may address our colleagues. We are not allowed to have our personal feelings enter into the way we conduct our matters. We have to conduct ourselves with dignity and decorum in the court.”
Nalane said when asked whether there was an alternate way in which Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo could have dealt with the situation, Watt-Pringle replied: “It does not matter whether Justice Zondo was right or wrong. He is the chair, he directs the proceedings. There is no excuse for counsel telling a colleague to shut up."
Nalane said: “The Advocates For Transformation considers Watt-Pringle to have pre-empted the outcome of the probe and compromised the integrity of the processes prescribed by the constitutions of the Johannesburg Society of Advocates and the GCB, of which he was a member. They compromised the objectivity and independence of the GCB as a appellate body. The GCB could legitimately be seen to have prejudged the matter and undermined due process.“
However, Watt-Pringle, yesterday told Pretoria News that he was unapologetic because he was approached by the media to speak on the matter.
Part of his duty as the GCB chair was to advocate against such misconduct in the discipline, he added.
Watt-Pringle said he weighed in on the matter because Mpofu sought to undermine Zondo and a younger female colleague, Le Roux, in an industry where women, like black lawyers, have historically been disadvantaged. This made it necessary to speak against such verbal abuse of female colleagues in the discipline, he added.
Watt-Pringle said his term as GCB chairperson will come to end in July and would not be there by the time possible appeals are filed. In any case, he said, the GCB does not itself decide appeals but appoints retired judges or senior colleagues from other bars to preside and make decisions.
"Although I would usually be involved in the appointment of that panel if I was still in office, I would obviously not do so in any case like this. I would stand back and let my deputy make that appointment. I would not be conflicted in the event that it arises."
Mpofu said he found it regrettable that Watt-Pringle criticised his conduct in the media before the Professional Committee of the Johannesburg Society of Advocates could hear the matter.
Mpofu said he planned to release his own detailed statement on the matter and react to Zondo who called a media briefing “just to criticise” his behavior “even after already calling me to order at the inquiry when the incident happened”.