Not too white to go to court

Henry

It has always been white male legal professionals who get the short end of the stick when it comes to legal representation for the state.

This is evident from figures from the attorney general’s office, which show that legal professionals employed by the state in the past four years have in fact almost all come from so-called previously disadvantaged groups. In addition, the state exceeded its transformation targets by more than 10% last year, with only 5% of lawyers who did not form part of the relevant groups.

The light was once again shed on the transformation of the judiciary when Judge Mandlenkosi Percival Motha wanted to know from a group of lawyers in February why there was not a single black lawyer present in the relevant case in the High Court in Pretoria.

At the same time, he requested that the attorney general order an investigation into the “absence of diversity among legal professionals”.

On Tuesday, the attorney general released figures on representation that show exactly how many people from the designated groups, as well as women, are instructed by the state to act on his behalf. According to this, since 2019 the state has repeatedly exceeded its transformation goal of 83%, in terms of the percentage of legal orders issued to individuals from the designated groups.

Last year, 95% of lawyers who received assignments from the state were individuals from the designated groups. A total of 42% of legal professionals employed by the state were women, slightly more than the target of 41%.

The monetary value of these assignments to individuals from the designated groups amounts to R914 million, just for the 2023-24 financial year. The state paid a total of R306 million to women for legal work.

As far as the state attorney in Pretoria is concerned, assignments worth R459 million were given last year to lawyers from the designated groups, R119 million to women and R75 million worth of legal assignments to white men.

The attorney general says the systematic increase in the percentage of assignments issued to lawyers from the designated groups and women indicates a “positive trend in the direction of diversity and inclusiveness”.

“Especially the state attorney in Pretoria shows improvement in the number and value of the assignments given to these lawyers, which is indicative of a commitment to correcting historical inequalities.

“The progress made so far proves our unwavering commitment to creating an inclusive legal landscape. The Office of the Attorney General remains committed to establishing a legal profession that represents the diversity of our nation.”

Dr. Dirk Hermann, managing director of Solidarity, spoke out strongly against Judge Motha’s actions last week.

“Judge Motha has found himself guilty of racial prejudice and is then no longer worthy to act as a judge. If racial judges become the norm, it will be to the great detriment of legal practitioners, ordinary South Africans and the administration of justice. This issue must not be left alone.”

  • Figures in the report were modified after it was initially published. – Ed