SA lawyers plan to unite

South Africa's leading black and white lawyers are to meet at the end of this month to thrash out a plan to create a unified post-apartheid body to govern themselves.

The country's attorneys – the equivalent of solicitors – are regulated, under a 1974 statute, by the four provincial law societies of Natal, the Cape, Transvaal and the Orange Free State which together have formed the Association of Law Societies of Southern Africa.

During the worst period of the apartheid years, when Nelson Mandela was practising, black lawyers were not allowed to set up practice in “white areas” and they could not sit in the same place as white lawyers in court.

As a result, two lawyers' pressure groups developed to push for change: the Black Lawyers Association and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel).

Now there is a new constitution, with nine provinces where once there were four. South Africa's minister for justice, Dullah Omah, a prominent member of Nadel, has said that the three lawyers' bodies must unify themselves and agree the constitution of a new governing body, before he fixes its structure by statute.

The three bodies met last month and set out three areas for discussion:

whether to have nine bodies for the nine provinces;

whether attorneys should be regulated by law societies at a provincial level or at a national level;

how many representatives from each of the three bodies should sit on the governing council;

Andre Van Vwren, director general of the Association of Law Societies of Southern Africa, said: “We are now each asking our members for their opinions so that we can go back at the end of this month and negotiate. The one thing all three bodies are agreed on is the need to have one unified national body representing South Africa's attorneys.”