Free legal services for the poor

6 May 2010

Indigent peopel will be able to access free legal services when South Africa’s Legal Practice Bill, which was approved by cabinet on Thursday, comes into effect, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe said in Cape Town this week.

He said that a key feature of the bill, which also plans to set uniform standards for all those that join the legal profession, would require legal practitioners to provide legal services on a pro bono basis to the indigent in rural areas or to applicants of the Small Claims Court.

The provision would be similar to that which requires doctors to provide certain minimum hours to provide free services to the community.

It would complement, rather than do away with Legal Aid South Africa, which provides for state-paid legal services to indigent persons.

Bringing courts closer

The government was also planning to bring access to justice closer to ordinary people with the introduction of the Superior Courts Bill and the Constitution Amendment Bill address, which call for high courts with divisions in all provinces to be set up.

Limpopo and Mpumalanga will soon have their own high courts if the bills are passed by Parliament.

“As we are seated now a person who is in Mpumalanga if he has a matter, he has to drive hundreds of kilometres to Gauteng to seek justice there,” Radebe said. “So at a stroke of a pen, if Parliament approves these bills, they will have justice right on their doorsteps, the same as in Limpopo.”

He said his department would also continue with its efforts to upgrade and convert more branch courts into full service courts.

To this end, Attridgeville and Mamelodi courts, as well as Ntuzuma court in KwaZulu-Natal and Northam court in Limpopo, would from 1 June become full-service courts.

Civil disputes

The cabinet today also approved the terms of reference for the review of the civil justice system, which follows the review of the criminal justice system, which is still being carried out by the department, he said.

“Resolution of civil disputes cannot continue to be an exclusive terrain for the rich and powerful only,” said Radebe. “All South Africans must enjoy equal access and protection of the law and where necessary through adjudication by the courts.”

Source: BuaNews