Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister John Jeffery has thrown light on the thinking behind a decision not to promulgate several sub-sections of the 2014 Legal Practice Act dealing with legal fees, reports Pam Saxby for Legalbrief Policy Watch. Addressing delegates at an international conference hosted yesterday in Durban by the South African Law Reform Commission, the Deputy Minister said the Rules Board for Courts of Law had advised against the commencement of sub-sections 35(1) and (2) – which require the board to provide some level of ‘immediate relief’ to members of the public by setting more affordable tariffs. According to Jeffery, had these sub-sections come into effect the board would have been obliged either to ‘second guess’ a more suitable fee structure or to duplicate commission investigations into fees already under way.
Yet to come into force, sub-sections 35(7) to (9) – dealing with ‘the issue of fee estimates’ – are apparently a source of concern to legal practitioners, who perceive them not to be ‘practical’. In the Deputy Minister’s view, this needs to be ‘urgently addressed’ given government’s intention to ensure that a client should ‘have some idea’ of the likely cost of litigation when approaching an attorney. Meanwhile, the Rules Board for Courts of Law ‘recently’ circulated proposals for comment that, once operational, are expected to assist the clients of advocates in ‘knowing upfront what fees can be claimed in litigation when the bill is taxed’.
Jeffery has ‘cautioned’ the commission not to not ‘prioritise’ the interests of the legal profession over those of the public in conducting its investigation, which began during August as Legalbrief Today has already reported. The commission still has two years to report back to the Minister and make recommendations, among other things, on ‘the desirability of establishing a mechanism… responsible for determining fees and tariffs payable to legal practitioners’. Subsections 35(4) and (5) of the Act – spelling out the commission’s mandate in this regard – came into effect yesterday by presidential proclamation.