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Cape Bar is racist, two advocates claim

News

Cape Bar is racist, two advocates claim

'Unconscionable racist practices,' claim the pair. Not true, says the Bar

Journalist

Some of the legal profession’s dirty linen will be aired as two advocates butt heads with the Cape Bar in court.  
The Bar’s alleged lack of transformation, which has been an albatross around the Cape Bar’s neck, is central to the lawsuits. It also saw a group of advocates protesting outside parliament to “highlight the desperate plight of black practitioners” in 2015. They claimed they were overlooked for many court cases.
Advocates Fairuz Seria and Pearl Mathibela, who were among those who picketed, have accused senior advocates serving on the Cape Bar Council of being “enablers of the unconscionable racist practices of the Cape Bar”.Seria has approached the Supreme Court of Appeal after the High Court in Cape Town upheld the Cape Bar’s finding that she was guilty of unprofessional conduct.
Seria said her woes started when she queried an increase in floor dues – used to pay staff salaries and to buy tea and coffee – by members of the Bar known as Group 10 in 2015. 
She objected to the increase of the floor dues from R2,500 to R3,000 per month.
“I noted, among others, that I would not be able to afford the proposed increases as my practice barely met its month-end financial commitments, a position exacerbated by skewed and racist briefing patterns,”  Seria said in court papers.
“I further noted that the proposed increases would serve as a barrier to entry to the floor for similarly placed members of Cape Bar as well as historically disadvantaged prospective members of the Bar who were then at the end of the their pupillage period.”Seria said she was the only one who challenged the increase and lodged a complaint with the Bar Council, highlighting that none of her written objections had been considered. She then paid the amount applicable before the tariff increase.
She said the group suspended her services including photocopying, telephone switchboard services  and tea and coffee for her clients and herself before the Bar Council could deal with her complaint.
She resigned from the group in January 2016. Six months later, the group approached the Bar Council to complain that her conduct was unbecoming of an advocate, saying that she had failed to pay floor dues since December 2015.
A subcommittee of the Cape Bar Council found there was merit in the group’s complaint, although she claims she had received no services. The subcommittee’s report recommended she should be suspended from the Cape Bar until she settled her debt. She was also warned she could face expulsion if she did not comply with the recommendation.She approached the high court but it ruled she had not exhausted the internal processes, dismissed her application for leave to appeal and slapped her with the legal bill. She is now holding out hope to the SCA.
Meanwhile, Mathibela wants the high court to find the Cape Bar and two former chairpersons of the Cape Bar in contempt of a 2016 Cape Town High Court  order.
She failed to pay her Bar dues and lost her membership. The court ordered that once her account was up to date she would be reinstated. She has paid the outstanding amount but is yet to be reinstated.
In a statement, Seria and Mathibela accused the Cape Bar of hounding the group of advocates who protested against the skewed briefing patterns out of the Bar.
“Three years since the picket, nearly all the back advocates who participated have been systematically harassed, victimised and driven out of the Cape Bar,”  the statement reads.
“We are determined to vindicate rights and refuse to be silenced by an institution that remains rooted in the ugly racism of the past. Sadly, some of our senior black advocates serving on the Bar Council have become enablers of the unconscionable racist practices of the Cape Bar.”Ismail Jamie, SC, the chairperson of the Cape Bar Council, said the Bar will defend the lawsuits. He denied that the advocates who protested against the briefing patterns were being driven out. Jamie said the Bar was in talks with big law firms to support its transformation initiatives, including supporting new members and women on maternity leave.
“This policy has just been extended to gay male members at the Bar’s recent (annual general meeting),” said Jamie. “… the allegation that senior black advocates serving on the Council, of which I am one, have become enablers of the unconscionable racist practices of the Cape Bar, apart from being defamatory, is also untrue.”

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