Justice & correctional services minister Ronald Lamola.Picture: MDUDUZI NDZINGI
Justice & correctional services minister Ronald Lamola.Picture: MDUDUZI NDZINGI

The department of justice is pulling out all the stops to transform the legal profession, including using its financial muscle to ensure more black female lawyers are briefed by the office of the state attorney.

Justice & correctional services minister Ronald Lamola said he has been ensuring that the department leads by example by allocating the majority of the matters relating to the ministry and department to female counsel — and black female counsel in particular.

Transforming the legal profession is a sensitive matter amid concerns that the sector continues to be dominated by white men who get most of the high-profile cases.

In replies to questions from the ANC published this week in parliament, Lamola said while there was still much work to be done, the government had made strides in improving the participation of female lawyers. He said from the statistics kept by his department, black female counsel briefed by the offices of the state attorney during the last few years, rank high for the past financial years.

Out of a total of 2,386 briefs allocated to female counsel during the 2017/18 financial year, 1,427 were allocated to black females. In the following financial year, 2,109 briefs were allocated to female counsel, with 1,233 of those going to black females. In the 2019/20 financial year, 1,203 briefs were allocated to female counsel for the first two quarters, with 761 briefs distributed to black females, said Lamola.

“When it comes to female counsel in general, the target has ranged from 25%-29% of value of briefs for the past two financial years,” the minister said.

“We continue to engage with the various role players and stakeholders over a period of time, ranging from the Legal Practice Council and the various associations, for example: the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, Black Lawyers Association, Advocates for Transformation, SA Women Lawyers Association etc to encourage collaboration in building capacity among women legal practitioners so they can [access] better opportunities within the legal profession and the Judicial Service Commission’s interviews for the bench.”

Lamola said the government was developing a framework for the appointment of acting judges. Discussions with heads of court were taking place.

“This is important as acting appointments are an important vehicle through which women practitioners can enhance their opportunity for permanent appointments on the bench. The department continues to support the structures such as the SA Women Lawyers Association and the International Association of Women Judges which have as their objective the advancement of women judges.”

Lamola said the department was collaborating with the Legal Practice Council and has embarked on developing a Legal Services Charter which will ensure the transfer of skills to previously disadvantaged practitioners, in particular women.

New criteria for the confirmation of senior counsel status to eligible practitioners would be finalised soon. “This is with a view to transfer the senior counsel sector which is still predominately male and white,” he said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za