Sakeliga is opposed to Cabinet’s intention to impose BEE on the legal profession via the Legal Practice Council. We are warning that such a step will seriously harm the independence and effective functioning of the law and therefore also the constitutional order in South Africa.
The legal relationship is a relationship of trust between client and legal representative. It cannot maintain its integrity while at the same time being subjected to external political provisions on what the demographic characteristics of clients and their legal representatives should be.
The Legal Practice Council should confine itself to matters such as quality assurance and maintaining the independence of the legal profession and lawyers. The appropriate way in which to promote social and political aims, such as the development of black lawyers, is that it should be undertaken by lawyers who feel called to do so. Issuing BEE directives to lawyers and their clients is not appropriate, whether it be in disguise in the form of partial penalisations, point scoring, conditions for practising and so forth.
The proposed code provides that the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition may impose black empowerment codes on the legal profession. We have noted that Minister Ebrahim Patel’s capacity to intervene in a discretionary way on virtually all levels is increasing, and the proposed code is an important example of this. While the issues where he may intervene in this way without parliamentary supervision appear to be of an economic nature, in actual fact he is conducting serious interventions of a political and social nature.
Sakeliga in 2021 submitted official comments on a previous version of the proposed Legal Sector Code. Those comments are available here. Sakeliga will also react to the new version, which is due to be published soon.