Attorney/advocate distinction to be abolished

The historic distinction between attorneys and advocates — which is similar to that between barristers and solicitors in the British legal system — is to be abolished in South Africa under a Legal Practice Bill, which Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Jeff Radebe intends introducing to Parliament this year.

Some steps have already been taken towards the unification of the profession by allowing attorneys the right of appearance — the right to act as advocates — in various courts, though not without special permission and under certain conditions in the Supreme Court or the Constitutional Court. That Bill was passed in 1995, and according to the department succeeded in reducing the cost of litigation — but not sufficiently.

The unification in the new Bill will, it is expected, reduce the cost of going getting legal assistance still further. According to Menzi Simelane, the department’s director general, a newly qualified lawyer will still be able to choose whether or not to make his living by appearing in court or by acting as an attorney with a fiduciary certificate.

Other methods of increasing the ease of access to the legal system were also outlined in the minister’s speech, opening the debate on his departmental budget in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

He told MPs that his department is spending R445-million for capital works during the current financial year, including righting the shortage of court accommodation in rural and township areas.

The minister also told a media briefing in Parliament that lawyers from previously disadvantaged groups will be given increased access to the huge sums of money spent by the government and parastatals on legal action. — I-Net Bridge

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