Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ) have hailed Cabinet’s decision to have law graduates complete compulsory community legal service.
Last week, Cabinet passed the Legal Practice Bill, which has been under discussion for the past ten years.
SLSJ chairperson Yana van Leeve said the Bill aims to promote access to justice for the poor and vulnerable through the transformation of legal practice in South Africa.
“We welcome the move to increase access to legal services through the introduction of compulsory community service for candidate legal professionals.
“Such a programme will not only serve to benefit the poor and vulnerable, but will also go a long way in developing socially conscious legal graduates who understand the law in light of the vision of our Constitution and the goals of transformation,” she said.
Leeve said the need for legal professionals to provide legal services for the poor is critical for the realisation of equality before the law, equal access and benefit of the law.
Those graduates will, at the same, gain the practical experience already required of them while performing such services she said.
SLSJ Research Coordinator in Kwazulu-Natal, Lucky Mkhize said the Preamble to the Bill states that the practice of law must be regulated to ensure that every citizen has access to justice and is equally protected by the law.
However, the needs of the poor and vulnerable in terms of access to justice far exceeds the mere 100 hours of mandatory community service provided for in the Bill, he said.
“We believe that law graduates must be required to perform at least one year of practical vocational training in institutions mandated to provide legal services to poor and vulnerable people.
“This will strengthen the capacity of existing institutions in addressing the challenges of access to justice,” he said.
Both Leeve and Mkhize agreed that a one year community legal service programme needs to be structured so as to provide for the placement, supervision and remuneration of legal interns in the same way provided for medical interns before admission to the medical profession.
They added that overcoming the practical concerns of placement, supervision and remuneration will require political will on the part of government and critical and open debate amongst all stakeholders, including students.
“We hope that the recent approval of the Bill by Cabinet is an indication that such a commitment shall be forthcoming.
“We look forward to ensuring the participation of the student voice in reshaping and transforming legal education and practice in South Africa and hope to engage in the consultative process that has now been initiated by government,” said Mkhize.