ProBono.Org Cape Town and Bowman Gilfillan invited by Amnesty International to be panelists on the Constitutional Matters programme hosted by Voice of the Cape

ProBono.Org Cape Town and Bowman Gilfillan invited by Amnesty International to be panelists on the Constitutional Matters programme hosted by Voice of the Cape

On the 19th of April 2017 ProBono.Org Cape Town and Bowman Gilfillan were invited by Amnesty International to be panelists on the Constitutional Matters programme hosted by Voice of the Cape, a local community radio station.

The public education programme is aimed at transformative constitutionalism. This particular session focused on the Right to Equality and Access to Justice and Legal Recourse in relation to the horizontal relationship between the State and the Citizen.

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Our help desks are expanding

Our help desks are expanding

By Shamika Dwarika, Elsabe Steenhuisen and Tshenolo Masha.

 

Help desks have proven to be a good service point for pro bono access. They are well situated and within easy reach for clients who frequent the courts or government departments requiring legal advice.

They are also a convenient and efficient system for attorneys to provide their pro bono hours in a space where they frequently operate and work.

DURBAN

Despite its limited staff, the Durban office runs 11 help desks, which enable us to extend our services to the wider community. In addition to specialised Consumer/Small claims, Refugee, Housing, Labour, Family and Deceased Estates help desks that are based at the Durban office in the CBD, there are several general advice help desks. These are based at the Chatsworth, Ntuzuma and Umlazi magistrates’ courts.

A number of new projects have recently been added. In December 2016, a general advice help desk was launched at the Verulam Family Court which is held on the first Tuesday of every month and is accessible to residents of the Verulam, Ottowa and Phoenix communities. The project was launched with the co-operation of the Department of Justice and there has been no shortage of attorneys willing to staff this help desk.

The office recently partnered with the KZN Blind & Deaf Association to conduct monthly workshops for their beneficiaries, and held a once-off help desk in December 2016 with six attorneys in attendance. There are plans to run a similar help desk for the Pietermaritzburg branch in due course.

In a new development, a general advice help desk will be held in the Durban High Court in partnership with the KZN Law Society. The help desk will be the first of its kind for the Durban office and will run daily from 09:00 – 12:00. ProBono.Org had a test run on 14 March and the help desk will officially launch on 10 April. This help desk will be staffed by attorneys with a minimum of 5 years experience. If any attorneys are interested in participating in this new venture, please contact ProBono. Org’s Durban office on 031 301 6178.

JOHANNESBURG

A divorce legal clinic started on 7 February 2017 at the Johannesburg Regional Divorce Court with one attorney and one advocate attending on Tuesday mornings. Ten candidate attorneys joined the programme on Monday mornings under the supervision of Adv. Elsabe Steenhuisen. After training at the court on 13 and 20 March 2017, they started to assist the public from 27 March. On average, they assist 10 members of the public per session.

As a pilot project and in support of the SA Law Reform Commission’s paper, Project 31: Family Dispute resolution, the clinic has involved the pro bono services of mediators and counsel. The aim is to offer a complete service to the indigent, and if the divorce disputes cannot be settled by mediation and settlement agreements, counsel will continue with pre-trials and trials. The focus is on dispute resolution regarding assets, and allowing children to voice their opinion in an attempt to curtail conflict.

The involvement with the clinic has led to training for counsel (two sessions) and candidate attorneys (four sessions). More training is planned on different types of curatorship in family disputes (May 2017), and the functioning of children’s courts (June/July 2017) which will be open to all legal practitioners.

Following a call by conveyancers at a pro bono briefing session held at the Johannesburg Deeds Office, we are setting up a help desk at the Deeds Office. This help desk will form the basis for a similar help desk at the Pretoria Deeds Office. We are aiming for the help desk to be operational by May.

 

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A student’s experience at ProBono.Org

By Nadia Avis.

 

nadia-avisLet me first mention that I had an amazing time at ProBono.Org. I was so proud to be able to job shadow in such an organisation. It gave me a chance to see people who genuinely care about their community. Before I went to ProBono.Org I thought selfishly: Why would I want to study only to end up having to work for free? However, after being at ProBono.Org and being exposed to all the amazing work that is done there, I now understand how great a feeling it is to be helping someone, not because you have to but because you want to.

I had set my heart on going to ProBono.Org and I when I got accepted I was thrilled. Firstly, in my opinion, the office has such a cool location. As I stood in the offices, I thought how moving it was to be in the same place where a prisoner stood 50 years before me.

Generally, I learnt a lot about the field of law, along with a number of other things. I was asked to make a spreadsheet on Excel, I had an opportunity to read about different cases that interested me (one of them was the Grootboom vs the Republic of South Africa case) and was taught how to write a brief. I was also taken on a very informative tour of the Constitutional Court and the Women’s Gaol. I was informed about the Government Gazette and encouraged to do a bit of research. Even though I was not a regular employee, I had this amazing feeling coming in every day and knowing that there would always be someone to help me.

I was also truly impressed by the people that work at ProBono.Org: one could see that everyone was really passionate about what they are doing and all of them seemed happy to be able to do something worthwhile every day.

I really enjoyed my time at ProBono.Org and I think that the work that is done there is amazing. It also gives me hope to know that even if someone cannot afford legal services, there is an organisation like this that can help them.

ProBono.Org teams up with Clyde & Co on behalf of a student

ProBono.Org teams up with Clyde & Co on behalf of a student

Article by Richard Chemaly

 

ProBono.Org was informed of the difficulties being faced by a University of Cape Town (UCT) student, Rethabile Makoanyana, who was unable to graduate due to outstanding fees. The primary issue was that a Free State municipality had contractually agreed to pay his fees but failed to do so. His follow-up calls to the municipal manager were met with either silence or hostility. The result of his failure to graduate included stress on his mother leading to her high blood pressure, him experiencing depression and his being unable to register for an honours degree.

Because his appeals to the municipality to honour its agreement fell on deaf ears, he was compelled to find another conduit to assist him to settle his fees. Makoanyana complained to the Public Protector, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training and the Registrar of the Constitutional Court. These approaches seemed to incense the municipality and caused it to respond by incorrectly claiming that the matter was sub judice, which simply was not true.

It was then that ProBono.Org enlisted the assistance of Christopher MacRoberts, senior associate at Clyde & Co.

The legal battle began with a letter of demand. This was not only necessary to demand payment of the outstanding fees but it was also apparent that the municipality refused to provide UCT with Makoanyana’s student number so the fees already paid could be properly allocated. Throughout this time and despite his depression, Makoanyana continued negotiating with the university and trying to make contact with the executive mayor’s office.

In an attempt to mitigate the prejudice to Makoanyana, his mother attempted to take out a loan to pay the outstanding amount but her application was declined.

MacRoberts continued to put pressure on the municipality together with Makoanyana and eventually their collective efforts were rewarded without the need to litigate. The municipality paid all but some R5 000 of the total of R140 000 that was owing to UCT. Makoanyana’s mother made this final payment and is seeking reimbursement from the municipality.

In July, Makoanyana sent us his graduation photographs and expressed his thanks for our intervention.

Through this process, MacRoberts has discovered that this is an issue faced by many students who do not have the resources to take up a legal battle with their contractual funders. Fortunately in this instance, the funders were legally obligated and the documents were clear and unambiguous. Students who receive bursaries and funding for higher education should ensure that they receive proper documentation indicating the full undertaking of their funders. Students are further encouraged to reach out to ProBono.Org should they experience any such issues.

ProBono.Org is indebted to the excellent service offered by Christopher MacRoberts of Clyde & Co and thanks him for his successful efforts. We also thank the student, Makoanyana for having the courage to take on the municipality and demand what he was entitled to legally and contractually.

ProBono.Org welcomes and supports shortlisting of Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh for Public Protector

ProBono.Org welcomes and supports shortlisting of Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh for Public Protector

Article by Richard Chemaly.

Following the Students for Law and Social Justice’s nomination of the executive director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) for the position of public protector, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh is on the parliamentary shortlist for the job.

ProBono.Org has worked with Ramjathan-Keogh from her days at Lawyers for Human Rights up to and including her time at SALC. Ramjathan-Keogh also sits with members from ProBono.Org on the steering committee for the annual Public Interest Law Gathering. We heartily support Kaajal’s nomination, she being a nominee who is characterised by independence and integrity, both qualities required for the position of the public protector.

 

The Legal Practice Act and Community Service

Article by Erica Emdon


ProBono.Org is involved in discussions with stakeholders on the Legal Practice Act, and we are developing our own position on what we think “community service” (dealt with in Section 29 of the Act) should constitute.

Section 29 of the Act covers people within the legal profession, more specifically candidate attorneys (CAs) and practising legal practitioners. In regard to CAs, community service must be “a component of practical vocational training” and in regard to legal practitioners “a minimum period of recurring community service by practising legal practitioners upon which continued enrolment as a legal practitioner is dependent”. The Act is not applicable to other persons, in particular LLB students. While many universities have community service programmes, if these are to be regulated it would be necessary to do so through other legislation or curriculum requirements of university degrees.

Regarding CAs, the position is tricky, and more questions arise than answers. The amount of time that should constitute community service during articles needs to be decided. Should it be thirty days, three months, six months or a year? What activity should constitute community service for CAs? The Act provides a list of possible activities that could constitute community service. This list is also applicable to legal professionals. It includes, but is not limited to:

  • Service in the state
  • Service at the SA Human Rights Commission (this could possibly be extended to other Chapter 9 institutions)
  • Service as judicial officers, including in small claims courts
  • The provision of legal education and training
  • Other service approved of by the Minister

Which of these would be appropriate for CAs? Where should CAs undertake their community service? Within the law firm where they are working? What if that law firm is a small firm without any community service options? If it were a large firm with a pro bono department, would a compulsory period in that department constitute community service?

Perhaps a better option is that CAs should undertake a year long period of community service after they have completed articles in an institution given recognition by the state. This could be made a prerequisite for admission. If this form of community service provides a service to the state, albeit indirect, the state ought to pay for it. Examples that spring to mind are service in courts assisting the public, legal departments of different = organs of state, parastatals, Legal Aid SA, community advice offices or legal NGOs. The advantage of this system is that CAs who have completed their articles would not require high levels of supervision.

The option of requiring CAs to undertake their community service within the period of their articles could be implemented by requiring CAs to do some legal clinic work as part of their Practical Legal Training component. This would require Practical Legal Training courses to incorporate a community service component. Alternatively, what if a CA’s community service were the same length of time as a legal professional’s – that is 24 hours per annum – and could be performed while under the supervision of the CA’s principal? Or perhaps for CAs the amount of hours could be higher? And the CA would be expected to do this work within the period of articles, to be signed off by his or her principal.

The latter option would be the cheapest and an option that could be implemented immediately. The former option of one year’s community service would have to be phased in as it would require new job definitions and an assessment of appropriate institutions.

Regarding community service for professionals, ProBono.Org believes that the purpose of undertaking pro bono service is to make access to justice available to the most impoverished members of our society. For this reason we believe that the paltry 24 hours required per annum should be skewed towards casework for impoverished clients, as this is where the need is greatest. We believe that while options, such as providing training, service to the state, acting as a commissioner at a small claims court and so forth are options to be considered, there should be an imperative in the regulations requiring that a substantial majority
of the 24 hours should be devoted to case work and direct legal assistance to people unable to afford
private legal fees. (A similar provision is provided for in Rule 6.1 of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, but requiring 50 hours per annum, not 24! See the research paper by Daniel Sive, “Pro Bono/Community Service”, commissioned by NADEL).

In essence the entire reason for providing pro bono service as a recurring service should be to ensure that every person is enabled to realise his or her constitutional right, provided for in section 34 of the Constitution, to have a dispute resolved, “in a fair public hearing before a court of law…”. Without legal representation, this right is rendered almost meaningless.
 

The work of the Durban staff attorneys – April Newsletter 2016

The work of the Durban staff attorneys – April Newsletter 2016

The Durban office of ProBono.Org has two staff attorneys who deal with our various help desks. They are Petrina Chetty, who joined in August 2014 and Trisha Dhoda, who joined in January 2016.

In addition to her other help desks, Petrina took over the refugee law portfolio in December 2015 as she wanted to learn more about this area of law. Refugee law is one of our core focus areas and one of our main challenges is recruiting attorneys to assist us with refugee law. In an effort to recruit attorneys, we have already held two seminars for attorneys on refugee law this year, presented by experts in the field. We will be holding other refugee training seminars to equip attorneys with the knowledge and skills required to assist us with our refugee work.

Petrina’s other area of speciality is family law, with the help desk being one of our consistently busy ones. We recently saw a rise in the number of elderly people who approached us for assistance with instituting divorce proceedings. To curb the increase in divorces, Petrina believes that mediation would assist and hopes that more attorneys with mediation skills will contribute toward this endeavour.

Petrina has found that applications for protection orders at the Chatsworth Magistrate’s Court help desk are seemingly endless and we have a real demand for attorneys in Chatsworth who can assist us with these. Fortunately, ProBono.Org is becoming more popular amongst attorneys and the community in Chatsworth and we anticipate that more attorneys will be involved in our Chatsworth matters in the near future.

Trisha facilitates the deceased estates, consumer and housing law help desks as well as the general law help desk at the Ntuzuma Magistrate’s Court. The consumer law help desk is situated at the Durban Magistrate’s Court and assists clients by dealing with matters under the Consumer Protection Act, ranging from contracts to garnishee orders.

The deceased estates help desk is our busiest. It is strategically held at the Master’s Office where our attorneys generally consult with between 25 and 35 clients a week. We have fostered an excellent relationship with the Master’s Office and their staff, who go out of their way to assist us with queries. The Deputy Master regularly commends ProBono.Org for the work that we do with them. We have found that most of our clients simply need legal advice and guidance on how to report a deceased estate. Many of our clients have low levels of education and are simply unaware of legal processes. Our attorneys are to be commended for their work in this field as they have shown themselves to be more than happy to assist clients and take their time explaining the details of the matter.

Our housing clinic sees many clients grappling with landlord/tenant disputes. It is here that we also see the prevalence of fraud matters. Many elderly clients approach us reporting that their properties have been fraudulently transferred to a third party without their knowledge and consent. Trisha has found that these cases can become quite emotional and the harsh plight of these clients is very apparent. Trisha therefore plans to hold more community seminars to educate communities and make them aware of these dangers, in the hope that this will reduce the number of people being swindled.

Pretoria office news  – April Newsletter 2016

Pretoria office news – April Newsletter 2016

We were sorry to lose our intern Lehlogonolo Marota at the end of 2015. He left the organisation to pursue articles of clerkship at Legal Aid South Africa (LASA) in Pretoria where he now works in the civil department. He made a significant contribution to our office and we continue to keep in contact with him as our point person for case referrals at LASA.

We welcomed Refilwe Mmusi to our Pretoria team on 1 February 2016 as a legal intern. In addition to her work at the office, she is in charge of the Community Advice Office Support Project for the Pretoria area. Refilwe has aspirations to become a human rights lawyer and sees herself growing within the civil society space.

Our Pretoria office has entered into a partnership arrangement with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) since the beginning of 2016. We held an Access to Justice Imbizo (outreach) for the community of Mabopane on 20 February with the CCMA and the Department of Labour. The presenters were commissioners of the CCMA, Joseph Maaga and Mohau Ntaopane, Elsie Joubert from the Department of Labour

and Neo Chokoe from the Pretoria ProBono.Org office. The presentations focused on labour law, employees’ rights in terms of labour legislation and how employees can enforce their rights with the assistance of lawyers, the work of ProBono.Org and its projects.

On 31 March our office was invited to attend a Labour Law Amendments workshop convened by the CCMA. The workshop focused on the new amendments to the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Employment Equity Act, the enforcement of arbitration awards and how to stay execution pending review proceedings. The aim of these workshops is to equip and capacitate lawyers with skills to handle labour law cases.

Community Advice Office Support Project: Social media for social change

Community Advice Office Support Project: Social media for social change

Article by: Tshenolo Masha

The work of community advice offices (CAOs) remains pivotal in realising the objectives of access to justice. Many advice offices struggle with the harsh realities of not having funding and operating in an environment that is not adequately resourced. They encounter challenges that require instant access to information or referral of their matter. In some instances a simple task like sending an email becomes a stumbling block to ensuring that much needed assistance is provided to a desperate member of the community.

Access to technology these days does not have to mean a bulky desktop PC. Today’s technology allows for data collection, office management and communication to be easily accessible from hand- held devices. The most important advantage is that one can use social media, which promotes interactivity and connectedness which are at the very core of social change efforts.

Social change on social media platforms is not restricted to the advertising of goods and services, but these platforms can be used to expand the reach of community based organisations such as the CAOs. They can use the social media platforms in their area of operations to disseminate information on important legal matters and events that could benefit the community as a whole.

The Device Pilot Project is being rolled out in six CAOs situated between Gauteng and Limpopo. The project will provide smart phones to the CAOs for a period of 10 months. During this period they will be using well-known applications such as WhatsApp, Gmail and Facebook to convey important information related to cases, data collection, events, workshops, meetings and other activities. The project’s main objective is to determine if these platforms can be used effectively for data collection and the legal empowerment of the community. This project is also about shaping the manner in which CAOs can use these social media platforms in an innovative way. As Tom Freston, the former CEO of MTV said,

“Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.”

SAPS ‘failed’ burnt woman

POLICE are investigating the conduct of the Sophiatown police station after alleged negligence by its officers resulted in a woman being set on fire. The investigation comes more than nine months after the
gruesome murder, as the woman’s family struggle to cope. Brenda Hedges lived for more than a decade with her daughters, Lucille and Cecilia Schaper, Cecilia’s husband Roeland Bosman, and the couple’s five children in Newlands. All three women were granted protection orders against Bosman because of years of physical and emotional abuse, but polic

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