The video clip which is doing rounds in the social networks showing Mpumalanga Advocate being assaulted by a mob of people who disapprove of him representing his clients is a cause of serious concern to the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) in particular and the legal profession at large. This comes as a huge shock as we no longer expect this type of appalling behaviour at this era. According to the media reports Advocate Nico du Plessis, representing two men accused of kidnapping a three-year-old child, at Nkomazi Magistrate’s Court in Tonga, Mpumalanga was kicked and pulled by his tie to the ground.
BLA is of the view that no amount of anger irrespective of any form of offence a person is accused of committing justifies any form of attack on the accused’s legal representative. This assault is an attack on the entire legal profession and some of the rights guaranteed in our Constitution, like the right to dignity, right to choose trade, occupation or profession of choice freely, and the right to legal representation. Of paramount importance is that members of community should know that our country is founded on constitutional values, amongst others, human dignity, the achievement of equality and advancement of human rights and freedoms. These rights are what guarantee us an independent legal profession which is free of any form of fear or prejudice. The moment our lawyers feel threatened to take some cases that will mean the collapse of one of the pillars of the democracy, the rule of law.
We find this unfortunate development more worrying because it coincides with the Day of the Endangered Lawyers, which took place on Friday the 22nd day of January 2016 in The Hague, Netherlands. The Day of Endangered Lawyers recognises the difficulties and threats faced with the human rights lawyers of the world, BLA supports this initiative. This year’s commemoration focused on Honduras which is reported to have experienced about 91 targeted killings of lawyers for the period between 2010 and March 2015.
It is beyond reason and logic that 21 years into democracy and freedom South Africa still has people who assault legal representatives for doing their job. We condemn such acts of barbarism with the strongest possible terms. Such actions has no place in this democratic country. BLA does not believe that this despicable conduct is influenced by ignorance. This is a pure criminal conduct which deserves the mightiest strength of the law. BLA will not be surprised, in the event of arrest of these criminals, if they engage legal practitioners, who are colleagues of the victim herein, to represent them in court. BLA recognises this important right as enshrined under section 35 of the Constitution.
Assault of legal practitioners, in our country, executing their job needs to be treated with exigency of highest order as this is not the first incident of this nature in that as recently as November 2013 a Free State attorney, Mrs Martha Mbhele, now appointed a Judge of the High Court of South Africa, was assaulted by angry members of the community for applying bail for her clients.
Lutendo Benedict Sigogo
President of the Black Lawyers Association