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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Untouchable Rot in the South African Legal Profession


There are many reasons why South Africa probably qualifies as one of the most weird and wonderful places on earth. The country caters for just about every need and every taste imaginable. It is thus no wonder why it is often described as the land of opportunity. Unfortunately, the country also offers immense opportunities for criminals, from all walks of live, -- from the lowest scumbag savages who will murder and rape simply because they can, to cunning high-tech villains in suits, who have mastered the art of stealing your money, and ultimately ruining your life, – legally!


I can tell readers quite a lot about the ruthless upper-class criminals living among us, because for the past seven years I’ve had quite a lot of dealings with these scavengers. There are a number of them working in government, but fortunately most of them are not too bright, hence the reason why some are exposed every odd now and then! This posting is not about those kind of criminals, but the other more highly developed kind, the ones that seldom (almost never) get caught, because our government is too afraid to touch them.

Yes, believe it or not, there is a certain breed of criminal out there whose activities the government cannot touch! In fact, in the vast majority of cases their illegitimate activities do not even qualify as a crime at all, hence the reason why I will not be mentioning any names in this posting. The crooked scum among this crowd will recognize their own modus operandi, that is IF they read the words I’ve posted here!

The vast majority of this untouchable scum hide behind the prestigious occupation known as ‘The Legal Profession’, in other words, lawyers, attorneys, advocates, prosecutors, magistrates, and judges. It is the highly esteemed and honourable reputation attached to this profession that makes them untouchable. They will remain untouchable as long as they stick to the rules, and not do something blatantly stupid or out of the ordinary, for example: submitting fraudulent claims related to the Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund on behalf of clients. (See in this regard a recent case that occurred in Namibia, where it is alleged that a total amount N$3,515 million was involved in fraudulent claims.)

As always, the main stream media in South Africa does an excellent job of influencing the emotions and objective reasoning of common folk. The media, like our government and also the various provincial law societies, are cautiously reluctant to investigate rumours of corruption or dishonesty in the legal profession. However, when individuals in the legal profession occasionally find themselves on the wrong side of the law, these cases will always make front-page news. This is done to enhance the perception in the minds of common folk that members in the legal profession are not untouchable, and thus not above the law. Recent examples of this is Judge Nkola Motata who was arrested for drunken driving, and the two advocates Dirk Prinsloo and Cezanne Visser (also known as Advocate Barbie), who were involved in the sexual exploitation of women and young children.

The press will occasionally report dishonest or unprofessional conduct by members of the legal profession, especially in cases where an attorney has been suspended from practice or struck from the roll of attorney, but stories of this nature are few and far between. The media gets its information from the Law Society of South Africa, who controls what may be published, and what not. The general public can thus not rely on the media to sketch an accurate picture of the extent of the corruption and dishonesty involved in the profession. The bottom line however, is that corruption and unprofessional behaviour does exist, and where there is smoke there is bound to be a fire! (Click here to view one example that made the news.)

Obviously there are many decent and honest individuals working in the legal profession, but this is exactly why the profession provides the ideal cover for the ruthless and greedy bastards among them, whose noses are trained to snuf out how much they can legally embezzle in each and every case they handle. Divorce attorneys are the worst kind, particularly if there are huge assets such as valuable property involved, but you’ll find these criminals in all sectors of the legal profession.

In South Africa, the so-called land of opportunity, where power and weakness is measured in money, our fantastic-democratic constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on, because the average citizen, never mind the individual who is totally penniless, do not have a hope in hell to challenge an unjust, unfair or unconstitutional decision by a state official. This privilege is only open to the elite few whose bank balances run into the hundred-thousands and millions.

According to our world-class constitution everyone living in this country, no matter whether they are wealthy businessmen living in royal palaces, or beggars living on the streets, or in-between where most of us happen to be sitting, are supposed to have equal opportunities to enforce rights and legal entitlements. Unfortunately these rights and legal entitlements are set out by law, which are only fully understood by those who have sound legal expertise, depending on what category of law you’re dealing with. In other words, if you want to enforce your rights and entitlements you’ll need to first find an attorney who specializes in that specific category of law, and then you’ll have to pay the attorney, usually upfront, to do the job for you. It’s a never-ending vicious circle, the exclusive playground for the prosperous!

On the other end of the legal scale you will find plenty of so-called human rights organisations in South Africa who employ lawyers who will fight tooth and nail for the defenceless and marginalised among us, who have suffered discrimination by reason of race, or social, economic, and historical circumstances, BUT don’t expect them to fight tooth and nail if you happen to be a landowner, or if your skin colour happens to be white, - the kind who supposedly benefited from that evil apartheid system!

The free services offered by government Legal Aid, or the various non-profit law centres, normally attached to universities, are mere masquerades set up to create the impression that our society is a fair and just democratic one. These institutions are geared towards helping criminals and not the victims of crime. Awaiting trial prisoners who cannot afford an attorney automatically get assigned a defence lawyer at taxpayers expense. Any criminal who has been accused of committing a crime, but who has not been arrested or sentenced yet, can also utilize the services of free legal aid to manage their defence. The only requirement is that the applicant must be unemployed, or not be earning more than R5,000 a month.

Legal aid is normally not available in civil cases, or in any case in which the potential benefit to the client does not justify the anticipated costs of the case. If you want to sue an attorney or a government official for damages, legal aid will show you the shortest route to the exit door. In rare cases legal aid may assist with matrimonial issues, but if the other party is represented by a competent private attorney, then the chances of a successful or fair outcome are basically zero.

In South Africa the sordid business of divorce has developed into a merciless multibillion-rand industry. In fact, the whole business has become so out of control that ethical values, efficiency, trustworthiness, and accountability, simply do not exist.

Unscrupulous divorce attorneys have perfected the art of manipulating our weak and corrupt judicial system to their own advantage. Obtaining unfair and unconstitutional judgements and court orders have become the order of the day. Although there are channels available to appeal against judgements, rescind judgements, or to amend court orders, there’s one tiny little snag: You’ll need a qualified attorney to do the work for you. As I’ve said before, it’s a vicious circle, perfectly designed to line the pockets of those scoundrels!

The modus operandi of corrupt divorce attorneys is very simple, and basically works as follows:

The very first step involves an assessment of how much they can gain from the divorce, in other words, how much they can legally embezzle. If there’s not much money to be made the divorce is speedily finalized, but if the case appears to be a lucrative one, then the second step is to conspire with the opponent’s attorney. The two legal fellows will then customarily prolong the case until such times as all the spoils are in their hands through their legal fees. If there is valuable property involved in a joint estate you can be sure that they will also conspire, plot, and scheme about the selling and conveyancing of such property.

The third step is to determine the degree of animosity between the litigating parties, and their willingness to settle the divorce amiably. In most cases the parties involved will differ on aspects of settlement, hence the reason why they obtained the services of an attorney in the first place! If no apparent animosity exists between the parties the devious lawyers will usually create the right atmosphere for it to eventually develop.

In South Africa the all-powerful Domestic Violence Act, with its broad and absurd definition of ‘abuse’ is often implemented as a tool to create the required enmity between the parties. Although the service is free, once a valid protection order has been granted the very first clause will prohibit both parties from communicating with one another. The defendant in the matter will be threatened with arrest if that happens! Both parties are thus forced to communicate only through their respective lawyers, thereby pushing up the legal costs of the divorce.

In South Africa it is not uncommon to find defendants in legal ‘domestic violence’ disputes to appear more traumatized than the ‘poor’ victims of abuse (the applicants). Unscrupulous lawyers usually take advantage of the messy situation to bombard the defendant with legal papers that make impossible financial demands, with promises that domestic violence claims will be withdrawn if they comply. The papers are drawn up in such a manner that the unfeasible demands related to the divorce settlement appear to come directly from instructions from their client. The crooked lawyers are extremely proficient when it comes to manipulating the emotions of their respective clients. God help you if there are minor children involved in the dispute!

The more bitterness and disagreement between the parties, particularly in cases where lucrative assets are at stake, the more money the two respective attorney-firms will eventually make. These cases are known as contentious divorce cases, and the bad emotions between the parties involved usually provide the required energy to keep the pot cooking, just below boiling point. It also provides grounds for the corrupt attorneys to exonerate themselves from their evil deeds, in other words, it provides valid reasons why their legal fees are so exorbitant! In highly contentious matters divorce settlement proposals are usually presented to the parties after one or more, very costly, so-called ‘round table conferences’ have been held. The final settlement presented will always be shrewdly designed to look like a ‘bad agreement’ to either one or both parties. The two conspiring attorneys will also appear to be at loggerheads with one another, thereby creating the false impression in the minds of the two bewildered clients that their best interests are being taken care of.

In cases were both parties equally share a joint estate the chances are pretty good that both will eventually end up with little or nothing. Both parties will realize too late that they should rather have settled for a ‘bad agreement’ at the outset, and that by doing so they would both have been better off. The attorneys involved in the whole scam don’t care whether the divorce is successfully finalized in court or not, and neither do they care how much emotional trauma their deceitful actions have caused. In fact, once the money has run dry they will simply withdraw as attorneys of record, and walk away.

The above description is obviously a worst case scenario, but believe me if I tell you that this happens all the time in South Africa, and especially with married couples who have little or no experience in these matters. So-called paralegal experts are popping up everywhere in the country to help finalize divorce cases, domestic violence issues, and other civil matters. Their marketing strategy is generally based on the premise that legal firms are corrupt to the core, and that you will be saving yourself time and money by using their services. They seldom tell you that they are not qualified attorneys and are thus not legally entitled to represent you in a court of law. In this respect they are on the exact same level as corrupt and dishonest lawyers.

South African law societies are a total farce!
All these law societies claim that they are committed to protecting the public against unprofessional and irresponsible conduct by attorneys, and are prepared to investigate complaints which are submitted to them in good faith and which fall within their jurisdiction. (See: Complaints about attorneys)

Here are the very first words you’ll read when attempting to lodge a complaint against an attorney:

The attorneys' profession is proud of its high professional standards and the low incidence of disciplinary action required by the provincial law societies. All attorneys are bound by a strict professional code.

As soon as you start examining the circumstances in which a complaint may be filed, you’ll quickly realize that you’re wasting your time. You will learn, among other peculiar things, that:

  • The Council cannot investigate complaints alleging incompetence or negligence, because these can give rise to claims for compensation which the Council has no power to award – such compensation can be pursued only through legal proceedings, or the threat of them, by the client concerned.
  • Where there is a complaint of overcharging on matters which are governed by a tariff, such as law suits or conveyancing, there must be evidence by way of taxation by the relevant authority that there has indeed been overcharging.
  • The Council has no power to order an attorney to pay compensation to a client. If you wish to enforce your rights against the attorney you should consult another attorney to assist you with an action in a court of law. (Yea sure, that vicious circle is put in motion again!)

And now for the cherry on the cake…

Some attorneys belong to an Indemnity Insurance Scheme, called ‘The Attorneys Fidelity Fund Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme’, which affords a certain level of free professional indemnity cover to all attorneys practising in South Africa. (Visit www.aiif.co.za for more info.)

The various law societies will thus also make a point of informing prospective complainants (the public) that they are protected by the Attorneys' Fidelity Fund, which will compensate any person who has lost money entrusted to an attorney in his capacity as such, by reason of the attorney's theft of such monies. In other words, the crime can no longer be classified as theft or fraud because the victims get their money back. Wouldn’t it be great if all criminal activities were so well organised!

And finally:

Although it is permissible for a litigant to handle his/her own court case in any court, you cannot lodge a complaint to the Law Society against your rival attorney, even if you witnessed the rival attorney committing gross irregularities or telling deliberate lies to the presiding Magistrate or Judge during the proceedings. The Law Society will simply decline to investigate the matter on the grounds that you were not represented by a qualified attorney.

The Law Society of the Northern Province specifically states the following on their website:

“he who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client.”

This sounds to me like blatant intimidation! What if you cannot afford to hire the services of a qualified attorney, or if legal aid refuses to provide assistance? The whole business appears to be rotten from the very top, all the way down!


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