Transformation in legal fraternity under spotlight

By Karabo Ngoepe Time of article published Jun 17, 2020

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THE recent judgment by the Equality Court sitting in the High Court in Cape Town has thrown the issue of transformation in the legal fraternity back under the spotlight.

The judgment, which was delivered last week by judges Nolwazi Mabindla-Boqwana and Taswell Papier dismissing the equality court challenge, saying “it is perhaps fitting for all to be reminded that the election of black women to the governing structures of the profession is not in itself sufficient to fulfill the transformation objective of the legal profession”.

At the heart of the challenge was the requirement by the Legal Practice Council (LPC) to have one black male, one black female, one white male and one white female in positions of power to ensure gender and racial balance.

However, this was challenged by the Cape Bar Council. The saga started following the election of a black male advocate instead of a black woman. This then paved the way for a battle between the council and the Cape Bar against Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola.

The Cape Bar sued for unfair discrimination and indicated that it wanted Andre Paries to be replaced by Ncumisa Mayosi.

The council nationally, its provincial wing and Lamola opposed the application.

The Cape Bar, in its court challenge that was lodged by advocate Andrew Breitenbach, wanted to “urgently address a serious irregularity” which arose from the LPC in March.

In the complaint, Breitenbach said the move was as a result of the failure to declare Mayosi as the elected candidate due to the unlawful capping of the number of black women advocates who may serve on the provincial council.

“She received more votes than Mr Paries, who was declared elected in her stead. The Cape Bar seeks to have that irregularity corrected by the court.

“The LPC considered that together these quota provisions dictate that, regardless of the number of votes for back or female candidates, the contingent of advocates on the provincial council has to consist in all cases of one black female, one black male, one white female and one white male,” he said.

Breitenbach called on the court to adjudicate on the matter as the provincial council is an important body with wide-ranging powers and whose decisions have a profound impact for all of the Cape Bar’s members and all legal practitioners.

Lamola, in his affidavit, argued that the inclusion in the leadership structures of the legal profession was the beginning, not the end, of real and sustainable transformation of the legal profession.

The LPC welcomed the judgment, indicating that the court found that the election of black women to the governing structures of the profession is not in and of itself sufficient to fulfill the transformation objective of the legal profession.

Chairperson of the LPC, Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu said it would remain on its path to ensure transformation happens in the legal fraternity.

“Transformation of the legal profession is central to the LPC and we are committed to ensuring that it extends beyond just the gender issues to also look at opportunities and support that is provided to up and coming legal practitioners, who are young, black and women,” she said.

Judgment comes as the Pretoria Bar Council of Advocates finds itself on the brink of collapse because of racial tensions.

The Pretoria Bar Council is being governed by a 50/50 split of power between white advocates and black advocates belonging to the Advocates For Transformation (AFT).

Black advocates are accusing their white colleagues of orchestrating the mooted liquidation of the 120-year-old organisation as a ploy to get rid of them.

Three black counsels said the body’s decision to apply for liquidation last month was an attempt to limit the influence of black lawyers on the bar.

The Pretoria Bar sent shockwaves through the legal fraternity when it announced it would be filing for liquidation. It cited bankruptcy and partly attributed the decision to Covid-19 related national lockdown.

The Sunday Independent

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