New era in the legal profession as voting starts for new regulatory body

The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) have joined forces to avoid vote splitting in the upcoming elections for the Legal Practice Council.

The establishment of the council falls under the Legal Practice Bill which was signed in 2014 by then president Jacob Zuma.

Voting for the new council - which marks the beginning of a new era in the legal profession - begins on Wednesday.

The profession, attorneys and advocates will from November 1, be regulated by the council which will replace traditional law societies and Bar councils.

In a statement, BLA and Nadel said they were conscious that, because of the injustices of the past, black and female legal practitioners were in a minority in the legal profession and the regulation of the legal profession was mainly in the hands of white practitioners.

"We have agreed to conduct this election jointly in order to present black and woman candidates, who will champion the interest of the South African public, transform the legal profession, promote the objects of the Legal Practice Council and reflect the demography of the Republic of South Africa."

There are 10 positions for attorneys and six for advocates.

BLA and Nadel have jointly nominated eight attorneys and five advocates while the Law Society of South Africa has put forward 74 attorneys and 56 advocates.

Voting closes on September 30 and the successful candidates will be announced on October 5.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha said the new statutory body would begin its work in November.

The existing four statutory provincial law societies and the Bar associations can continue to operate as "voluntary associations" to advance any non-statutory interests of the profession.

Masutha said the Act required that the council reflects the country's gender and racial demographics in all its structures.

The Act provides for the setting up a community service system through which both aspirant and serving lawyers would do community service to increase access to justice.

It also provides for the establishment of a legal "ombudsman" to enhance accountability and the transformation of conferring senior counsel status or "silk" status through the creation of a transparent nomination process.

In addition, the Act provides for seven other positions on the board to be filled by two teachers of law - one being a dean of a faculty of law at a university - three people designated by the minister, one by Legal Aid South Africa and another by the board of the Fidelity Fund.