Press Release: Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ) welcomes compulsory community service for law graduates

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May 12, 2010 No Comments ›› Dmitri Holtzman

Last week Cabinet passed the Legal Practice Bill, which has been under discussion for
the last 10 years. The Bill aims to promote access to justice for poor and vulnerable
people through the transformation of legal practice in South Africa. In a country in
which many are denied access to justice because of social and economic barriers, the
need for legal professionals to provide legal services for the poor is critical for the
realisation of equality before the law and equal access and benefit of the law.

SLSJ welcomes 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. Those
graduates will, at the same, gain the practical experience already required of them
while performing such service.

Despite the above, it is also clear that the Bill does not go far enough to ensure that
law graduates will be providing a meaningful service to the community. 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.

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. Currently, legal representation and
other legal services are accessible only to those who can afford them and are beyond
the reach of the majority of disadvantaged people in our society. The perpetuation of
this situation drastically undermines the public perception of the law and the
Constitution.

A programme of one year of community legal service 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. This is
in recognition of the fact that many students cannot afford an additional year of
unremunerated training, often due either to loans, dependants or other socio-economic
conditions.

Overcoming the practical concerns of placement, supervision and remuneration (all
necessary elements of a comprehensive and effective programme) will require
political will on the part of government and critical and open debate amongst all
stakeholders, including the students. We hope that the recent approval of the Bill by
Cabinet is an indication that such a commitment shall be forthcoming.

Students for Law and Social Justice has recognised this need and has begun research
into the viability of one year of compulsory community service for the estimated 2500
law students graduating every year. We, as students, 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.

As direct beneficiaries of state subsidised education, community service is a
responsibility that rests with all students in South Africa.

For more information and comments, contact:
• SLSJ National Chairperson: Yana van Leeve 082 789 442
yana.vanleeve@gmail.com
• SLSJ Research Coordinator in Kwa-Zulu Natal: Lucky Mkhize 076 691 8714
luckymikhize@yahoo.com
• SLSJ National Secretary: Suzanna Bliss 073 913 3055 zanna.bliss@gmail.com