Public interest and pro bono
Our public interest team is focused on facilitating access to justice and attending to the legal needs of the underprivileged and marginalised, and those organisations that support them. Our pro bono initiative is based on its literal origins, meaning “for the good”, and allows our team to provide legal services free of charge. All our lawyers are required to perform at least 24 hours of pro bono work each year, emphasising the importance we place on our corporate responsibility.
Our pro bono programme serves two purposes: it enables us to use our professional skills and experience to help members of our community, and it enables us to learn and to grow as lawyers. We find that our pro bono initiatives are of particular benefit to our new and junior lawyers, giving them the opportunity to sharpen their skills as interviewers, analysts and good communicators. As a result, they acquire skills that will make them exceptional lawyers; they also feel positive about themselves and about the profession they have entered.
Our lawyers also sit as commissioners of the Small Claims Court and as acting judges of the Labour Court. We participate in various grass roots level projects aimed at making the law more accessible to those otherwise excluded.
On-going project work
- Participating in the SASLAW/ labour court pro bono project, assisting unrepresented litigants.
- Presenting a legal education programme to Shanduka Black Umbrellas’ clients at four of their eight incubators around the country. Shanduka Black Umbrellas ‘incubates’ small black businesses, supporting them to become sustainable large enterprises. They have a very high success rate - way in excess of the industry average. Some of the topics covered include commercial leases, consumer protection legislation, credit legislation, protection of personal information legislation, directors fiduciary duties and liabilities, competition law, insurance for SMMEs, social media, tenders, fraud and money laundering, non-disclosure agreements, suretyships and guarantees and contracting into Africa. Absa, has partnered with us on this as a SMME development initiative and will co-present on many of the topical issues covered within the programme. A commercial pro bono initiative has evolved out of this project where we assist qualifying small businesses with commercial contracts and governance issues.
- Running a helpdesk at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court and expanding the capacity for advice. We provided free legal counsel on domestic violence at the Court on a weekly basis during the year and every day during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, which runs from 25 November – 10 December each year. We play an integral role in expanding the Court’s capacity to assist victims of domestic violence. Simple interventions can make a significant difference. We help people to complete protection order application forms, explaining the process and the requirements to them. These tasks can be a challenge for many women who are victims of domestic violence.
- Performing ‘legal health checks’ for NGOs through our relationship with Advocates for International Development (A4ID), This entails undertaking a mini-due diligence which involves assessing the NGO’s internal processes and controls; contract management system; HR systems and policies; intellectual property protection; appropriate financial stewardship and compliance with legislation applicable to NGOs.
Our recent work
- Representing Caster Semenya, the 800m world champion, Olympic silver medallist and South African darling of the track since the traumatic events of the summer of 2009.
- Assisting a client, ‘Mr T’, in a dispute with his medical aid scheme regarding access to care within the prescribed minimum benefit framework. Mr T has a medical condition for which he has received various treatments over a number of years. He had reached the point where these treatments were no longer effective and he was prescribed a biological drug. Biologics are genetically-engineered proteins derived from human genes, and target specific components of the immune system instead of broadly affecting many areas of the immune system as traditional treatments do. They are typically used to treat conditions that do not respond adequately to traditional treatment, but are expensive. Due to certain technicalities his medical aid refused to cover the costs of this expensive medication. We represented Mr T at the appeal hearing before the Appeal Board for Medical Schemes, where the presiding officer rejected the technicalities argued by the medical aid. The medical aid was ordered to reimburse Mr T for the costs he had incurred in paying for the drugs himself, and to foot the bill for his future needs for the drug.
- Representing the Commissioner for Gender Equality (CGE) in relation to its intervention in a matter where 40 Thai women had been detained for two months at the Lindela Deportation Centre for contravening the Immigration Act, 2015 - with the view of deporting them. This involved an application by the Thai women’s attorney to the High Court to have them released. The CGE was asked by the High Court to intervene in the matter as an amicus curiae (friend of the court). A friend of the court is not a party to the proceedings but is in a position to provide valuable insight and information to the court. The acting judge found that the police and Department of Home Affairs had failed to observe their constitutional duties to these women, and ordered their immediate release into a place of safety,
- Successfully securing an interdict in the Northern Cape High Court on behalf of the McGregor Museum that prevents unlawful alluvial diamond mining on the declared heritage site of Canteen Kopje situated in Barkly West in the Northern Cape. This is the country’s oldest dated archaeological site boasting a Stone Age history stretching back some 2.3 million years. The mining began on 18 March 2016 but was soon halted following urgent legal action instituted by the McGregor Museum. The interim interdict granted on 19 March 2016 gave temporary protection, which is now final. This matter has important implications for mining companies who do not uphold the provisions of the National Heritage Resources Act and the procedures it requires.
- Assisting the Operation Hydrate initiative - a group of dedicated volunteers committed to collecting and distributing millions of litres of drinking water to people in drought stricken areas in South Africa and raising funds to drill boreholes to ensure continued supply of water to these people. Operation Hydrate is being incorporated as an NGO and we will apply for Public Benefit Organisation status and permission to issues s18A tax certificates to donors in due course.
- Supporting Reprieve, a small organisation of human rights activists which was founded in the UK in 1999 by human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. It provides free legal and investigative support to some of the world’s most vulnerable people: British, European and other nationals facing execution, and those victimised by states’ abusive counter-terror policies – rendition, torture, extrajudicial imprisonment and extrajudicial killing.
- Working in partnership with Sasol Limited in a multi-jurisdictional pro bono research project for the Visayan Research Foundation (VFF). The VFF aims to work with the government of the Philippines to bring the local fishing industry’s legislation and practices into line with its international obligations and improve the conditions and treatment of fishers who are regularly exposed to life threatening and exploitative practices. In South Africa, the team provided a comprehensive review and analysis of the legal rights and remedies of workers in the fishing industry and a supplemental report gauging the level of implementation of the legal framework and the extent of the awareness of fishers of their rights.
Regrettably we are unable to offer services in the following areas:
- Family law such as divorces, child maintenance, domestic partnerships or domestic violence applications.
Should you have a pro bono need in this area, you can contact http://www.probono.org.za/
- Winding up of deceased estates.