ADDRESS BY ADV DEIDRE SAULS – PRESIDENT OF THE LAW SOCIETY OF NAMIBIA ON THE OCCASION OF THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE HIGH COURT LEGAL YEAR 2013
Wednesday, 16TH JANUARY 2013
The Honourable Judge President
The Honourable Minister of Justice
My Lords and my Ladies
The Honorable Attorney General
The Honorable Ombudsman
The learned Prosecutor General
The Permanent Secretary of Justice
The learned President of the Society of Advocates
The learned President of the Namibia Law Association
Distinguished Legal practitioners and candidate Legal practitioners
The Registrar and staff of the High Court
The Media representatives
Ladies and gentlemen
On behalf of the Council of the Law Society of Namibia, I wish to thank the Honourable Judge President for the opportunity to make a few remarks at this auspicious occasion. I also wish to welcome you all back after a much needed period of rest and wish you all a successful and prosperous 2013.
The High Court Legal Year Opening has become an opportune occasion where the Council of the Law Society can give you an overview of the broader legal profession and the challenges that we face – but equally as important – a glimpse of our hopes, plans and ambitions for the coming year. It also allows us to equally take stock of our shortcomings (both past and present) and our achievements over the past year.
THE DIGNITY AND INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY
Before remarking on Law Society matters, I wish to acknowledge the efforts made by the Honourable Judge President in his leadership in addressing the matter of outstanding judgments, and we acknowledge the efforts made by the members of the judiciary in this regard as well. At this juncture I must stress the duty that each and every one of us has to uphold the dignity of the Judiciary and to fiercely protect its independence in the interests of the Rule of Law. I also stress the oath you took upon being admitted as a Legal Practitioner and becoming an Officer of the Court – the oath to “defend and uphold the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia as the Supreme Law.” The Constitution establishes the Judiciary as one of the main organs of State. The duty also extends to the members of the Judiciary as is evident from the oath of office taken by the honourable judges of the High Court of Namibia to “defend and uphold the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia as the Supreme Law and … fearlessly administer justice to all persons without favour or prejudice and in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Namibia.”
The Constitution in no uncertain terms states that “the Courts shall be independent and subject only to [the] Constitution and the law” and that “No member of the Cabinet or the Legislature or any other person shall interfere with Judges or judicial officers in the exercise of their judicial functions, and all organs of the State shall accord such assistance as the Courts may require to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness, subject to the terms of [the] Constitution or any other law.”
The Judiciary and the legal fraternity (represented by the Law Society of Namibia) are on the same team when it ultimately comes to the issue of the Rule of Law, and as a team, we should stand united in vigorously discharging our duty. Each and every team member owes it to the other to accord the necessary respect and support in achieving this overarching goal, even when it sometimes means not always agreeing on how to get there.
THE YEAR AND THE TASK AHEAD
The Council of the Law Society will on 25 January 2013, during its planning session discuss and formalise the projects, initiatives and other matters we wish to embark upon or take forward. As a prelude to this, I share the following with you:
The Law Society has come a long way since the implementation of the Legal Practitioners Act in 1995. The profession has grown rapidly over this period and the Law Society needs to cater for the needs and demands of various interest groups within the profession. Having regard to the relatively small size of the Law Society in terms of its Council and the Law Society staff, it is not always possible to cater to or satisfy all the requests and the demands of our members or role players. However, being the governing body of the legal profession we are alive to our capacity constraints and shortcomings in this regard and can only do the best we can with what we have. The scarcity of resources is, needless to say, one of the stark realities that each of us faces in our private and professional lives. But because of the very fact that our resources are scarce, this makes them all the more precious. We at the Law Society continue to strive and work effortlessly to achieving our goals and to improve the services to our members; as well as to work in the public interest for the enhancement of the Rule of Law and to promote the protection of human rights.
I wish to share with you the enormity of the task we are faced with. We have identified two arenas of work this year, namely one focused on the area of Public and
Professional Interest and the other focused on the area of Legal Practice.
THE WORK OF THE COUNCIL AND THE COMMITTEES OF THE LAW SOCIETY
In addition to the Directorate, the Law Society Council is assisted in its work by 16
Committees served by legal practitioners on a voluntary basis. These legal practitioners do not do it because they have to; they do it because they want to serve. They donate and dedicate their time, effort and expertise to serving the profession and as a service to the broader Namibian society without asking anything in return. As the president of the Law Society of Namibia, I warmly commend and truly thank those members of the legal profession for their tremendous efforts.
Committees that deal with matters of Public and Professional Interest include (but to name a few), the Bursary Committee that deals with bursaries awarded by the Law Society to deserving Namibians to study law; the Ethics Committee that deals with the professional standards and conduct of legal practitioner; the Law Reform Committee that provides input and conducts research on the laws of our country that affect each and every one of us; other committees include the Legal Education Committee, the Social Responsibility Committee and the Guidelines Committee
Committees that deal with matters of Legal Practice and are in general tasked with the nuts and bolts of the practice of law from the vantage point of the broader profession include the Civil Litigation committee, the Criminal Litigation committee, the Commercial Law committee, the Labour Law Committee, the Gender, Child & Family Law Committee and the Deeds Registry Committee.
What is extremely important to remember is that the benefit of the work of the Committees of the Law Society of Namibia ultimately flows to the Namibian public at large. The work is mostly unseen and unappreciated because it is not often publicized in the media and the effects thereof are often taken for granted. It should however be noted that due to the work schedules of our legal practitioners and the shortage of professional support staff at the Law Society, one of the major challenges is that the process is time consuming and it is not always possible to respond as quickly as may be desired. There are of course matters that by their very nature receive urgent attention.
The Council will undertake 5 countrywide meetings with it members covering the North, South, West and East of Namibia from March to August 2013. During these meetings issues of and Legal Practice as well as Public and Professional Interest will receive attention. We will focus on training aspects identified in conjunction with the practitioners from the regions. The dates of these meetings are available on the Law Society of Namibia website.
THE LEGAL PRACTICE ARENA & “IMPROVING THE STANDARD OF LEGAL PRACTICE”
In line with one of the focus areas of the Council of the Law Society during the year of my presidency we aim to implement projects and programmes to “Improve the Standard of Legal Practice”. Training and information sessions will – resources permitting – be identified, developed and offered throughout the year to facilitate and ensure the Continuous Professional Development (“CPD”) of legal practitioners. This is a huge task but we are ready for the challenge as it is long overdue. The Law Society deems the CPD of our members important to maintaining an acceptable standard of legal practice.
By taking a look at the statistics of our members, it has proved immensely helpful in identifying some of the interest groups falling under the auspices of the Law Society. From independence to date the body of legal practitioners has grown by around 400% from 107 attorneys and advocates to 578 legal practitioners – as we are all known today.
The following has come to light:
|1||Current Legal Practitioners||578||100%|
|2||Female Legal Practitioners||232||40%|
|3||Male Legal Practitioners||346||60%|
|4||Legal Practitioners In Private Practice||310||54%|
|5||Legal Practitioners In Government||58||10%|
|6||Legal Practitioners In The Corporate Environment||95||16%|
|7||Legal Practitioners At The Legal Assistance Center||4||0.7%|
|8||Legal Practitioners With Fidelity Fund Certificates (117 Firms)||273||47%|
|9||Legal Practitioners In With Fidelity Fund Exemption Certificates||37||6%|
|10||Previously Racially Disadvantaged Legal Practitioners||266||46%|
The first training seminar for 2013 is scheduled for Wednesday 30 January 2013 in Windhoek in the field of Criminal Law Practice on the topic of Sentencing. Legal Practitioners, Prosecutors, Magistrates and Judges who have work in the field of criminal law are welcome to attend. The sentencing seminar will be presented by Prof Stefan Terblanche from the University of South Africa and a renowned author on the topic of sentencing. During the week of 11 – 15 February 2013, the Law Society has scheduled the second training seminar for 2013 which will be held across Namibia, namely Windhoek, at the coast, far north and south on the topic of Fee Debiting and
Budgeting and the topic of Fraud Detection and Internal Controls.
THE PUBLIC AND PROFESSIONAL INTEREST ARENA
During the past two years the Council of the Law Society conducted the huge task of reviewing the Legal Practitioners Act in order to critically take stock of whether it has met its intended goals and to address some of the unintended consequences of the Act. This process will be continued under the banner of “Public and Professional Interest” Amongst other things, we would like to see improvements in the regulation of the legal profession and as far as possible avoid over–regulation which could stifle the natural and necessary development and evolution of the profession. We would further like to see improvements the Justice Training system. Risk management, professional integrity and the protection of the public from professional malpractice are some of the aspects that the Law Society takes very seriously and amendments are being considered to improve and introduce measures to ensure these.
The Law Society has been keenly involved with the UNAM Legal Aid Clinic since its inception but more can be done by our members to assist in this initiative. Your services at the clinic will assist in the training of Namibia’s future legal practitioners and a request is made to our more senior members to avail their time in increasing the capacity of the UNAM Legal Aid Clinic.
The Commonwealth Lawyers Association’s Conference will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, from 14 to 18 April 2013 and we have been requested to bring this to the attention of the members of the legal fraternity in Namibia. We urge legal practitioners to take this opportunity to attend and so doing gain exposure and interact with lawyers from throughout the Commonwealth, as the conference is virtually on our doorstep.
RULES OF THE HIGH COURT AND THE e – JUSTICE INITIATIVE
The Law Society of Namibia has been requested to and has provided input and assistance to the Honourable Judge President with regard to the new Rules of the High Court and with the e-Justice Initiative. We wish to thank the Judge President of the High Court for affording us the opportunity to participate in the process. As previously stated the profession and practice of law will and must necessarily evolve and keep up with the times. With respect to the proposed new Rules of the High Court, we have entreated the honourable Judge President to accord the Council of the Law Society more time to do justice to the exercise of considering the proposed Rules as the Council is yet to meet towards the end of January 2013 to consider the preliminary proposals of the standing committee of the Law Society which, due to the urgency of request, had been submitted to the honourable Judge President. Given the timetable for the urgent finalisation of the proposed Rules, we were encouraged by the invitation of the Judge President to submit any further comments and proposals. The electronic age is upon us. The Law Society recognises the challenges that are inevitable with the introduction of the e-Justice system, including the capacity constraints of the current physical and technological infrastructure to support the successful implementation of the e-Filing initiative. A vast amount of work still needs to be done, however we must be bold enough to make a start in order to advance.
I look forward to 2013 with a positive spirit. If we all co-operate and work together for the attainment of a healthy, well-respected and well-functioning justice system, there is very little that we cannot accomplish.