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South African Bar Society Reluctantly Backs Drive For Single Legal Profession

by Robert Lee, for LawAndTax-News.com, London

21 March 2003


The South African Bar Council has made moves to co-operate with the country's Law Society over the transformation of the South African legal system and the creation of a fused legal profession, despite the staunch opposition of the majority of its members.

In a consultation paper on the transformation of the legal profession, entitled Justice Vision 2000, the Ministry of Justice announced that:

'The legal profession has to be transformed in order to be able to respond properly to the needs of all the people of South Africa...The main challenges identified were the need to make the legal profession representative of the diversity of South African society and the need to make the legal profession more accessible to the public. It is also necessary to effect rationalization to bring the structure of the legal profession and the laws which regulate it into line with the new constitutional dispensation and the rationalization of the High Courts.'

Proposals contained within the paper sought to create a single profession of 'legal practitioners' via the standardisation of entrance exams, to address the low representation of black lawyers and women in the upper echelons of the legal community, and to provide a more balanced and representative service for the entirety of the South African population.

The Bar Council recently agreed to form a liaison committee with the Law Society with the intention of pushing talks forward. However, progress is expected to be slow, according to reports, as the country's barristers are, in the main, opposed to any change in their status, and the South African government has announced that is does not want to force either party into a particular course of action.

Speaking to the Legal Week news service, executive director of the Law Society, Andre Van Vuuren reiterated his organisation's support for changes to the structure of the South African legal profession, explaining that:

'This situation cannot remain static. The status quo has to change. We want all lawyers to be called legal practitioners, who all initially qualify in the same way and then choose a specialisation, such as IP or litigation.'


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