Judge reads Gauteng lawyers the riot act on undeserving civil cases
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Johannesburg – Gauteng Deputy Judge President Roland Sutherland has read lawyers the riot act over a growing tendency to rush all manner of undeserving civil cases to urgent hearings.
This was one of “several undesirable practices by some attorneys and some counsel” that “imperilled” the effective adjudicating of urgent matters at the Johannesburg High Court, Judge Sutherland stressed.
He sent a strongly worded notice to mostly attorneys and advocates’ bodies this week. The Legal Practice Council, the statutory regulator, also received a copy.
Judge Sutherland’s notice also bemoaned poorly written legal papers in these rushed cases. Counsels also tended to waffle before judges when asked to explain urgency, he said.
“The sheer volume of cases enrolled (in the urgent roll) has reached a critical scale,” said Judge Sutherland.
The court in the Joburg CBD had two judges allocated to hear urgent civil matters per week.
Judge Sutherland said due to the congestion of the urgent roll, “routinely each is confronted with some 60 matters, or more”.
“A much more disciplined approach must be adopted by practitioners as to whether or not a matter truly is urgent to justify its enrolment in a particular week,” said Judge Sutherland.
“Non-urgent matters clutter up the roll and waste time that could be devoted to truly urgent matters.”
He urged the lawyers not to be intimidated by clients who push for the urgent hearing of their matters.
“Practitioners must not be timid in the face of anxious and bullying clients who demand gratification of their subjectively perceived needs. The era of ‘let's see what the judge might think’ is now officially over,” Judge Sutherland said.
He warned that lawyers who brought non-urgent matters to the urgent court would be slapped with legal costs.
“To curb this abuse, judges shall consider the award of punitive costs de bonis propriius (out of the lawyer’s own pocket ) where non-urgent matters are enrolled.
“Also, an order forbidding attorneys and counsel to charge their own client a fee may be considered,” he said.
The Deputy Judge President further complained that papers filed in the court for the hurried matters were often poorly prepared.
“Often the waffling affidavit is evidence of a failure to properly diagnose what is necessary to say in support of the exact relief sought, that is, a failure to think through the matter properly.
“A similar abuse occurs in the annexing of a plethora of documents, most of which are never referred to and are often of little or peripheral value in the deciding of the case. Care must be taken to trim the bulk of the papers,” he said.
“The urgent court is not a suitable venue for a judge to engage in advocacy training.”
Counsels in these cases also often struggled to explain the urgency to judges, said Judge Sutherland.
“Arguments on urgency must be succinct. Too often a flaccid and length grandstanding performance is presented. This must stop.”