Address by His Excellency, President Jacob G Zuma on the occasion of the 70th Annual General Meeting of the Johannesburg Attorneys Association, Sunnyside Park Hotel, Johannesburg
20 Sep 2012
Chairperson of the Johannesburg Attorneys Association, Jacques Tarica,
Former Constitutional Court and Appeal Court Judge, Johann Kriegler,
Judges of the Constitutional Court and High Court here present,
Gentlemen and ladies of the Johannesburg Attorneys Association,
Members of the legal profession,
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
Good evening to you all.
I am grateful to have been given the honour and opportunity to address this important gathering of this learned audience.
This invitation could not have come at a better time as the transformation of the judicial system broadly is high on our national agenda.
As we celebrate 100 years of selfless struggle this year, it is appropriate that we reflect on what role the legal profession could and should play in a constitutional democracy.
Many distinguished lawyers played a pivotal role in the struggle against apartheid. Many went on to serve in the judiciary of a free South Africa. They remain committed to achieving the kind of society they fought for.
The task at hand now, is to continue the transformation process in the same way that this is being done in other sectors as well.
One critical factor, which is close to the heart of Chief Justice Mogoeng and former Chief Justice Ngcobo, is access to justice.
We are all seized with the matter of how to make our courts more accessible to the poor. Simply put, how do we make it easy for people who live far from the cities or who cannot afford to pay for justice, to obtain justice?
Secondly, we need to also move with speed in repealing and substituting old-order legislation that still governs the legal profession in various parts of the country.
Some of these statutes still apply in parts of the country that were part of the old regime before 1994. Others apply in areas that were former homelands.
Some of these laws include the Bophuthatswana Admission of Advocates Act, the Transkei Admission of Advocates Act, the Venda Admission of Advocates Act, the Bophuthatswana Attorneys Act, the RSA Attorneys Act of 1979 and Admission of Advocates Act of 1964.
As part of encouraging the transformation process, government has introduced the Discussion Document on the transformation of the Judicial System and the role of the Judiciary in a developmental South African state.
This document provides a framework for the transformation of our legal environment broadly.
I trust that you will also engage with it and make your views known.
Amongst the aspects being looked into is the impact of the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court and the Superior Court of Appeal on social and economic transformation.
The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development will provide a progress report of this important work at the appropriate time.
Government has introduced other Bills that are aimed at transforming our judicial and legal systems, such as the Constitution Seventeenth Amendment Bill and the Superior Courts Bill.
The two Bills seek to establish a judicial system suited to the requirements of the Constitution.
We are optimistic that Parliament will pass these Bills in the very near future. The enactment of these two Bills will, among other things, give birth to the much awaited High Courts in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.
I have also taken keen interest of the debates on the Legal Practice Bill, which is also before Parliament as well as the State Legal Services Reforms.
All these Bills, which I have alluded to, have been in the making for the past 15 years or much longer.
The fact that these Bills have taken longer than was originally anticipated should not come as a surprise.
Deliberations on what the contents of the Bills should be when they are finally placed on the Statute Book have been robust. With hindsight, it is prudent that their passage to date has been lengthy and even controversial.
It is proof of a participatory democracy at work.
Let me briefly focus on the Legal Practice Bill which is of interest to this august gathering of jurists.
I am aware that the introduction of the Legal Practice Bill has elicited robust and fierce public debates within the legal profession.
Government has, over the last 15 or more years, been trying to facilitate consensus within the various formations in the legal profession on how a transformed and rationalised legal profession should be regulated.
Already the legal profession is regulated primarily by the Advocates Act, Attorneys Act and the State Attorney Act, all of which are old-order laws which were not meant for the post 1994 democratic society.
It is therefore important that the old-order legislation be substituted by a law that conforms to the values that underpin the Constitution. The Legal Practice Bill is one of such laws.
The legal profession was asked to come forward with a consensus model as government is anxious not to be seen to be interfering with or impeding on the independence of the legal profession.
The Bill has its origins in the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights states that every citizen has the right to choose their trade, occupation or profession freely.
Of great significance, it goes on to say that the practice of a trade, occupation may be regulated by law which the Bill does in respect of the legal profession.
The premise of the Bill is that people who exercise or are involved in the exercise of judicial authority, must meet certain requirements and be subject to certain norms and standards to protect public interest and the interest of justice.
They must also subscribe to acceptable norms and standards.
The regulatory structure in the form of a National Legal Practice Council will set the norms and standards for the profession.
These will include the admission requirements and the regulation of fees with a view to keeping the cost of legal services within the reach of our people, in particular the poor and the vulnerable members of society.
It will also include community legal service through which new entrants to the profession will be dispensed to rural communities as part of their training.
The Bill is therefore very transformative in its nature. We trust that engagements on the Bill will produce a final law that will truly enhance the profession and its impact in creating a better life.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We should also take seriously the promotion of diversity in the legal profession.
I trust that the legal fraternity is also alive to this imperative, especially with regards to promoting diversity within the profession.
The advocates’ profession has traditionally provided a reliable pool from which judges are appointed.
It is important therefore to start promoting and boosting diversity and we will contribute as much as we can to ensuring diversity.
From the statistics gathered from the General Council of the Bar, of the total 2 384 members of the Bar, 1733 are White, which constitutes about 72,6 percent of the complements.
Female practitioners are 561 of the total number, which translates to 23,5 percent.
In the attorneys profession, out of the total number 21 007 attorneys, 13 643 are White, which constitutes 64, 9 percent. There are 7142 females who constitute 33,9 percent.
These statistics are not commensurate with the population demographics of the country in which women are in the majority.
These statistics are of particular relevance in that they are a reflection of the shortage of the black and women candidates who make themselves available for judicial office.
To boost transformation, we announced in May 2012 that Government will ensure that 70 percent of the legal briefs of government are allocated to previously disadvantaged practitioners.
In addition, we urge the profession to do everything possible to promote interest in the law amongst the youth in order to increase the intake in particular of black and women students.
Without active interventions and promotion of the profession and diversity, speedier change will not happen.
I know that the profession shares this concern. I trust that the Annual General Meeting will also find time to reflect on such critical nation building issues.
As government we emphasise the notion that working together we will do more to build our country.
Thus we appreciate your participation in several bodies and forums that continue to give effect to our goal of creating a better life and caring society.
We are thankful to those attorneys and advocates who continue to dedicate their time to contribute in the work of bodies such as the Judicial Service Commission, the Magistrates Commission and the Rules Board for Courts of Law.
Let me also thank our legal practitioners for the pro bono services they give daily and their work in the more than 240 small claims courts country-wide.
Support to the disadvantaged also includes providing free service during national initiatives such as the National Wills Week during which attorneys draft free wills for members of the public.
Through the pro-bono services and small claims courts, many of our people are able to access justice freely and expeditiously, in a country where true justice still remains largely the preserve of the rich and privileged.
We are aware that many legal practitioners perform free services far beyond the minimum 24 hours. It means a lot to the poor and disadvantaged and to us as our primary task is to create a better life, especially for the poor and the working class.
Earlier today, the Minister of Police Mr Nathi Mthethwa released the annual crime statistics.
All seven categories of contact crime witnessed a decline. This refers to murder, attempted murder, sexual offenses, assault grievous bodily harm, assault common, aggravated robbery and common robbery.
We congratulate the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster for this progress.
We also thank all South Africans as this is a collective national effort.
We thank in particular the volunteers and Community Policing Forums throughout the country who continue to champion the cause of a crime free society.
We thank members of the public who phone the police and provide information that helps in solving crimes faster.
South Africa is becoming safer and that is because we work together.
Working together, we will reach our goal of making every home, workplace and every street safe for our people and visitors.
Let me thank you again for inviting me to share this occasion with you.
I wish you all the best with your deliberations.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency
20 Sep 2012
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