New body to regulate South Africa’s legal practitioners

The Legal Practice Bill has been signed into law by South African president Jacob Zuma, the Presidency’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj said in a statement last week.

President Jacob Zuma
President Jacob Zuma recently signed into law an act that will see all lawyers – both advocates and attorneys – fall under a single regulatory body for the first time. (Image: GCIS)

Brand South Africa Reporter

The Legal Practice Bill has been signed into law by South African president Jacob Zuma, the Presidency’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj said in a statement last week.

The Act will see all lawyers – both advocates and attorneys – fall under a single regulatory body for the first time. The South African Legal Practice Council (SALPC) will be assisted by provincial councils in its daily operations.

The passing of the Act “brings to fruition many years of discussions, negotiations and even concessions that began in the time of the late Dullah Omar, democratic South Africa’s first minister of justice”, Maharaj said.

“While the time taken to promote and enact this historical statute might seem overly long, the time taken has been well spent.”

The deliberations during the bill’s passage through Parliament had ensured its many provisions had been thoroughly considered, he said. The changes were aimed at ensuring a legal profession that was not only transformed, but also independent, as well as one that promoted the values underpinning the Constitution and upholding the rule of law.

“The transformation of the legal profession, like the transformation of the judiciary and our court system, is crucial for our young constitutional democracy,” Maharaj said. “Transformation of the legal profession is a constitutional imperative. The legal profession constitutes part of the judicial machinery that provides services aimed at promoting access to justice.”

The passing of the bill into law has been welcomed by the Law Society of SA (LSSA).

“This is a historic event for the legal profession as it signals the formal start to a new dispensation,” LSSA co-chairs Max Boqwana and Ettienne Barnard said in a statement.

It would usher in a transparent, transformed, public-centred and responsive profession, changes which the profession has long supported.

The SALPC will comprise mostly legal practitioners, but will also include other important role players whose “expertise and experience will enhance the objects of the regulatory body”.

“While there is a single regulatory body, the Legal Practice Act allows for advocates and attorneys to continue in their respective areas of specialisation. The council, when carrying out its regulatory function, would consider and recognise these differences and similarities, where appropriate.

The Presidency said legal practitioners would continue to be admitted as officers of the courts – and the courts would continue to remove them from practice, should it be necessary.

“The council will also play a crucial role in the professional conduct of legal practitioners and develop a single code of conduct that applies to all lawyers,” Maharaj said.

Features of the Act

The Act states that disciplinary bodies that adjudicate on cases of alleged misconduct will be open and transparent and will consist not only of lawyers, but also of lay persons.

“While the assent by the President to this Act marks a huge milestone in our history, its full implementation can only be realised after the National Forum on the Legal Profession established in Chapter 10 has completed its mandate, for which a period of three years has been given,” Maharaj said.

The mandate of this forum was to put systems and procedures in place for the full implementation of the legislation.

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