Transformation of SA Judicial System Debated by Student Chapter of Black Lawyers Association
“The Journey Towards Transformation at the Bench” was the title of the recent panel discussion hosted by UKZN’s Black Lawyers Association Student Chapter (BLAsc).
The panel discussion at the School of Law on the Howard College campus examined challenges faced by Black African and women lawyers in the country.
A member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Mr Sifiso Msomi, spoke on what constitutes transformation and highlighted three elements - the change in demographics (diversity of the Bench); the change in attitude of the judiciary, and the element of accountability.
A member and former Deputy Chairman of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), Msomi said although the JSC was packed with politicians, when he sat on the commission he found it balanced, candidates were robustly interviewed and he never got the impression there were positions reserved for certain candidates. He added that discussions always centred on what was best for the country.
However, looking at the challenges that Black African lawyers faced with a special focus on the number of attorneys in KwaZulu-Natal, he said no attorney should be starving but that was not the reality.
Msomi said there was a total of 3 325 lawyers in KwaZulu-Natal servicing a population of eight to nine million people. Of those lawyers 722 were Black African (210 women and 512 men); 40 Coloured (18 women and 22 men); 1 363 Indian (742 women and 621 men); and 1 025 White (404 women and 621 men).
He said 90% of the work was done by 10% of the advocates. ‘Black lawyers do not get decent legal work.’
UKZN academic, a Commissioner in the Judicial Services Commission and an Acting Judge of the High Court, Professor Nomthandazo Ntlama, spoke on gender equality in the past and the current representation of Black African women in the judiciary.
She added that in the past White women were also discriminated against in their own context and the few Black men who got positions were those that could speak English.
However, she said national statistics were indicative of the challenge faced by the judiciary to transform but it was unwise to point fingers about the lack of transformation. She said some policies still hindered the process.
Giving hope to BLAsc, Ntlama assured them that there was progress. ‘The time is now to broaden your thinking and not flow with your imagination because a lawyer stands and reasons.’ Regarding gender equality and transformation, she added that diversity was needed on the Bench.
President of BLAsc Ms Pearl Biyela spoke on the idea of transformation on the Bench and how it related to BLAsc. She said it was paramount that the Bench transformed not only in how it appeared but also in what it fostered, so as to speak to the transformation agenda.
She said there was also a need to transform the education system and the legal education system. This included increasing the number of Black African researchers, judges, lecturers and also the decolonisation of the content being taught to students.
* BLAsc’s aim is to empower fresh minds in the legal field with the extensive knowledge that will help to empower them in the future through a series of educational activities during the course of the year. The student chapter promotes transformation and transparency.