/ 5 November 2013

Legal Aid to appeal ruling on Marikana funding

The Farlam commission of inquiry.
The Farlam commission of inquiry. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Legal Aid South Africa will appeal the high court in Johannesburg's judgment ordering it to pay the legal costs of the Marikana massacre victims' representation at the Farlam commission of inquiry, reported the City Press on Tuesday.

According to the newspaper, Legal Aid filed court papers on Monday requesting the "Supreme Court of Appeal to set aside the decision, which has 'negatively impacted on the organisation's budget'".

This possible appeal follows the announcement by Legal Aid in October that it would provide funding for the legal representation of the injured and arrested miners at the commission of inquiry as required by the judgment handed down by the high court.

In a statement at the time, Legal Aid reiterated its concern that funding for commissions of inquiry was beyond its mandate and budget, and that providing this funding would have to be done by reducing its judicare budget for other criminal and civil matters.

"In the final instance, it should be understood that Legal Aid's brief is to provide legal aid assistance to the indigent and vulnerable as contemplated in the Legal Aid Act and in the Constitution," said Legal Aid chief executive Vidhu Vedalankar.

Dali Mpofu, who represents the miners wounded and arrested in the shooting on August 16 last year, spearheaded the application for funding. In July he withdrew from the commission of inquiry because of a lack of funding.

Mpofu's attorney Musi Msimang at the time hailed the high court ruling as "good news for justice".

Vedalankar said last month that by increasing the scope of assistance to be provided by Legal Aid, the ruling amounted to the organisation having to reduce its assistance to the poor and vulnerable in criminal and civil matters, to now assist those in commissions of inquiry.

She added that the organisation's annual budget allocation was fully utilised, with no allowance for anything outside its mandate. "The available funding, which was meant for criminal and civil legal aid for the poor will be compromised, meaning fewer people will receive legal aid in criminal and civil matters".

To that effect, Vedalankar said the organisation was taking legal advice on whether it would appeal the judgment, while providing legal aid in this instance to the miners, as legal aid funding for commissions of inquiry directly impacts on the organisation's sustainability.

"This decision will affect the sustainability of the organisation in providing access to justice in criminal and civil legal aid matters for the poor and vulnerable, unless special funding is forthcoming," she said.