A full Bench of the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, readmitted Thillay Pillay, Martinus de Klerk, Percy Leopeng and Daniel Mogagabe on Wednesday. Judge Jody Kollapen in opening his judgment said: “This is about being given a second chance”.
All four advocates had demonstrated that they had identified their character defects and were genuinely and sincerely remorseful for their misconduct, of overreaching (overcharging clients) and double briefing, the judge said. As recognised by the four, reformation did not happen overnight and it was a long, arduous process.
The Pretoria Society of Advocates chose not to oppose their application. Its chairman, Francois Botes, said he was relieved that they were readmitted. “It was a long and difficult journey for all. It caused the society a lot of negative publicity and criticism, but we are relieved that this unpleasantness is over and they've been given a second chance.”
Two of the six advocates, whose names were removed from the roll in September 2011, French Bezuidenhout and Theuns Botha, did not apply to be readmitted.
The group were axed from the profession for double briefing and overcharging the Road Accident Fund (RAF) totalling more than R15million.
Seven were given suspensions of a few months, and all the suspended advocates have paid their dues, and were back behind their desks shortly after serving their suspensions.
In addition to the sanctions, the 13 advocates were ordered at the time to pay back about R6million in “ill-gotten gains” to the RAF. Each paid a different amount.
Judge Kollapen said it could be said that the four who successfully applied to be readmitted had permanently reformed, although the court could not say that they will never transgress again.
“But what we can be assured of is that the gaze of the judiciary, the profession, litigants and the public will be permanently on these applicants to ensure they never again compromise the integrity of the profession and the court.”
The judge added that it was up to them not to let their guard down in acting honourably.
“We therefore put our faith in the four applicants, that on their readmission, they will conduct themselves as honourable members of the profession and will carry out their duties as officers of the court in an exemplary and principled manner they have certainly proved themselves worthy of a second chance.”
All four advocates told the court they were willing to repay what they termed “ill-gotten gains” to the Road Accident Fund.
In this regard, Judge Kollapen said the court considered this, as all four considered this as an important part of remedying their transgressions and hence the closure of this chapter in their lives.
“Although we have full understanding of this desire, we are not convinced that it is competent in law for us to make this order.” The judge added that it remained up to the four to voluntarily make whatever repayment they wished to make.
The four had appeared tense before the start of the judgment, but they all had huge smiles of relief on their faces once they heard the good news that they could return to the profession.
Several of their colleagues at the Bar attended the hearing to wish them luck. Following the verdict, they all hugged each other.
De Kerk said he was relieved that this chapter was closed, and that they could now look towards the future. A beaming Leopeng said his lawyer, who assisted him in the application, Martin Rontgen, was “a real footsoldier”. Rontgen said it was an extremely difficult journey, but it worth it.