The signing of the Legal Practice Bill into law by President Jacob Zuma was welcomed by the Law Society of SA (LSSA) on Tuesday.
“This is a historic event for the legal profession as it signals the formal start to a new dispensation,” LSSA co-chairmen 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.
They said the LSSA had co-operated fully in the long process that had led to the bill, with the society committing itself to co-operating actively with all relevant stakeholders in the transitional phase.
The transitional phase would come into effect once the implementation date for Chapter 10 of the Act, dealing with the National Forum for the Legal Profession, was proclaimed.
“This will indicate the start of a negotiation process between the stakeholders to put in place the nuts and bolts that will ensure the proper and efficient functioning of a (SA) Legal Practice Council,” Boqwana and Barnard said.
The council would both protect and inform the public, as well as ensuring a strong, independent, vibrant and effective legal profession.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Presidency announced that Mr Zuma had signed the bill into law.
Spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement the bill’s signing had been the fruition of many years of discussions, negotiations, and even concessions which first began in the time of the late Dullah Omar.
Omar was democratic South Africa’s first justice minister.
“While the time taken to promote and enact this historical statute might seem overly long, the time taken has been well spent.”
The lengthy deliberations during the bill’s passage through Parliament ensured that its many provisions had been thoroughly considered.
This was aimed at ensuring a legal profession that was not only transformed, but also independent, and promoted the values underpinning the constitution and upholding the rule of law.
As a result of the bill, all lawyers, being advocates and attorneys, would for the first time fall under a single regulatory body, the SA Legal Practice Council.
The council would be assisted by provincial councils in its daily operations.
“This council will consist mostly of legal practitioners but also of other important role players whose expertise and experience will enhance the objects of this body,” Mr Maharaj said.
“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 functions, would bear in mind and recognise the differences and similarities between attorneys and advocates where appropriate.
“Legal practitioners, being officers of the courts, will continue to be admitted as such by the courts and the courts will continue to remove them from practice should this be necessary,” said Mr Maharaj.
“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.”
One important feature of the bill would see disciplinary bodies that adjudicated on cases of alleged misconduct being open and transparent.
Beyond consisting of lawyers, they would also consist of lay persons.
Another important feature would see a legal services ombudsman established.
The bill’s full implementation would only take place after the National Forum on the Legal Profession had completed its mandate, for which a period of three years had been given.
“The mandate of this forum is to put systems and procedures in place for the full implementation of the legislation,” Mr Maharaj said.
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