The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) says it is “deeply disappointed” that not a single woman was appointed to join a team of advocates briefed to prosecute state capture crimes.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the BLA said it was “baffled by the state’s continued disregard of female legal practitioners”.
BLA president Lutendo Sigogo said he noted in disbelief reports that the Department of Justice had appointed a team of four male advocates.
The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that advocates Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, Wim Trengove, Ngwako Maenetje and Geoff Budlender had been briefed.
The publication stated that the department allocated R20 million for their fees.
However, Sigogo said: “The legal profession has many known capable female lawyers and those whose potential remains untapped who can do this work meticulously.”
“At any opportune moment the Ministry of Justice tells the public that the government is serious about briefing female and black legal practitioners but when the opportunity to showcase these claims [arise], they do the opposite.”
Sigogo said the appointment of an all-male legal team in serious legal matters, such as the state capture one, “expose our government for what it is”.
“It either lacks the political will or the capacity to correct the imbalances of the past.”
Sigogo said the BLA would continue to engage with Minister of Justice and Correctional Service Ronald Lamola on the transformation of the legal profession and the judiciary.
Sigogo said Lamola should replace the white males with black female lawyers.
“We believe that through the minister’s intervention, these obviously skewed briefing patterns will be redressed with immediate effect.
“Women lawyers deserve good paying briefs. [A budget of] R20m cannot only be reserved for male advocates at the total exclusion of female advocates and attorneys.”
Responding to BLA’s statement, the National Prosecuting Authority’s spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke told News24 that the media report only seemed to focus on the external senior counsel.
“Undeniably, the male-only representation gives a picture of imbalance, but there are further five junior counsel who are appointed on the same basis, who are female.
“Of course, going forward and with other counsel being brought on board on various cases, there will be closer attention to the issue of transformation (more female and black representation), including the issue of representation from other bars, to reflect a better geographic spread than just focusing on the Gauteng and Cape Bars.”
Makeke said the additional value that contributed to the current selection of counsel was that they had “extensive knowledge of the cases in question from involvement in other capacities in those cases in which they will be allocated. In other words, they do not come in cold, which helps greatly.”
On Tuesday, NPA head Shamila Batohi briefed parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on some of the difficulties her department was experiencing with requests for mutual legal assistance (MLAs) from two countries, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Batohi did not name the Guptas or state whether the requests for mutual legal assistance related to them.
However, News24 reported last week that eight countries were approached for mutual legal assistance in an attempt to have the Guptas extradited to face state capture allegations, with India and the UAE among them. The other countries are the US, Canada, Switzerland, Mauritius, Hong Kong and China.
She told the committee there were undue delays in the finalisation of high-value cases, especially state capture cases.
Batohi also explained why the four male senior advocates were specifically appointed to help the NPA’s investigative directorate to take state capture cases to court.
She said there were basic criteria for the selection of the counsel.
“Basically, we needed to find a senior counsel who would be respected by prosecutors in terms of the work that they do in a criminal law space.
“They have been allocated to certain teams.
“Also, we looked at counsel who had a certain degree of knowledge with regard to some of these matters because they have been involved in different ways prior to these matters being declared by the directorate. So knowledge of matters was very important.
“The NPA had also looked at the skills and qualifications, for example, the years of experience as a senior counsel.
“We looked at the issue of representivity and value for money, because the rates that they have given us are not the usual senior counsel rates, or we have received their services at reduced rates,” she added.