Justice and Constitutional Development Minister, Ronald Lamola, has urged the newly launched Office of the Legal Service Ombud to “vigorously” investigate complaints against legal practitioners, whose conduct is unbecoming of the legal profession.
He was speaking during the launch of the Legal Ombud in Pretoria on Thursday.
“Legal professionals interact with and represent members of the public before the legal system regularly. In their interactions with legal practitioners, members of the public must never have a sense of powerlessness, moreover when their rights are grossly violated. People must be encouraged to speak out against maladministration with the certainty that their complaints will be taken seriously,” he said.
The Legal Ombud is headed by retired judge Justice Siraj Desai and is aimed at creating an “accountable legal profession” in the country.
According to Lamola, the Ombud will be tasked with “investigating complaints, alleged maladministration and actions which may affect the integrity of the legal profession” within the ambit of the Legal Practice Act.
“We expect [the Ombud] to work independently and not sweep complaints under the carpet. So to Justice Desai and his team, we are confident that you will indeed put an end to a spectacle where lawyers protected each other when faced with scrutiny arising from conduct not consistent with high standards of the legal profession.
“We urge you to pursue complaints vigorously so that your responses can inspire confidence and provide solutions to our people,” he said.
The Minister said although dishonesty is frowned upon in the legal fraternity, those seeking legal assistance are at times exposed to underhanded representatives.
“There is no doubt that all of us take a dim view of legal practitioners who misrepresent their clients, as we want a legal profession which commands consumer confidence.
“Distressingly, common problems of misrepresentation, such as lawyers robbing clients of payouts from the Road Accident Fund, lawyers colluding with peers at the expense of their clients, lawyers being dishonest and incompetent, to name but a few, have characterised some of the legal firms in the country,” Lamola said.
However, he said that the majority of legal practitioners in the country have “conducted themselves faithfully” to the practice and their clients.
“They continually apply themselves consistent with the expected professional decorum.
“These are lawyers who, through their conduct, demonstrate mastery of the letter of the law and impact positively on the lives of our people. These are lawyers who embody excellence and passion of the law. We encourage young and emerging lawyers to emulate them and represent the interests of the people,” he said. – SAnews.gov.za