MBABANE – Chief Justice (CJ) Bheki Maphalala means business. A few weeks ago, he banned two lawyers from appearing in any court in the country, for allegedly failing to remit monies to their clients, and now he has given law firms 21 days ultimatum to submit audited trust certificates.
In a notice, the CJ stated that failure by the law firms to submit the audited trust certificates within the stipulated period, would result in proper action being taken, which include banning them from appearing before any court in the country. The 21 days is with effect from April 18, 2018.
These law firms employ hundreds of lawyers who also include support staff.
According to the statement issued by the head of the Judiciary, over 70 law firms have failed to comply with the Legal Pratitioners Act and this has resulted in the alleged misappropriation of monies belonging to clients.
The CJ stated that the attorney general (AG) has provided his office with a long list of attorneys who were not complying with Section 24 of the Legal Pratitioners Act of 1964. “These attorneys have failed to submit proper audited certificates as required by the law and this failure has been a cause for concern for the misappropriation of trust funds by certain lawyers,” said the CJ. He also pointed out that what was worrying was that certain members of the council of the Law Society of Swaziland were not compliant.
“The long list and the extent of non-complaint attorneys with the Legal Pratitioners Act is a great cause for concern, not only to the members of public but to the integrity and reputation of the Judiciary,” added CJ Maphalala.
The head of the Judiciary continued to state that, equally important was the establishment and existence of the Fidelity Fund, which would assist members of the public who have become victims of misappropriation of trust funds.
“Pursuant to the issuing of the list of non-compliant attorneys, the office of the chief justice has issued a notice to all attorneys urging them to comply with Section 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act within 21 days, failing which further action will be taken,” reads part of the CJ’s statement. He highlighted that the CJ, as the head of the Judiciary, had the responsibility to protect the integrity as well as the reputation of the Judiciary at all cost.
The action taken by the CJ comes after Attorney General Sifiso Khumalo, wrote a letter informing the Law Society that some of its members were continuing to hold in defiance, the provision of Section 24 of the Legal Pratitioners Act.
“In fidelity to our task of ensuring compliance with the Act, we have taken stock of attorneys who have not submitted proper audited trust certificates, or at all,” stated the AG.
The AG mentioned that such continued defiance coupled with recent reports on misappropriation of clients’ monies by attorneys, taken together, could not sustain.
“Given that the extent of misconduct by attorneys is far reaching, let urgent action be taken to address the matter,” said the AG.
Khumalo concluded by stating that his office reserved the right to publicly name attorneys who have not submitted audited certificates.
Secretary General of the Law Society Bongani ‘Bhanyaza’ Mdluli, said they would issue a statement after their meeting with the CJ. He said they have written to the head of the Judiciary, requesting to meet him on a number of issues.
“We do not want to be seen to be dealing with issues of the Judiciary in the media. The Law Society will issue a statement after its meeting with the chief justice,” said Mdluli.
Section 24 (1) of the Legal Practitioners Act provides that: “Every practising attorney, notary or conveyancer, having an office within Swaziland, shall open and keep a separate trust account, at a bank lawfully established within Swaziland, in which he shall deposit all moneys held or received by him in connexion with his practice within Swaziland, on account of any person; and he shall further keep proper books of account containing particulars and information as to moneys received, held or paid by him for or on account of any person.
Section (2) stipulates: “The attorney general may himself or through his nominee at public expense, inspect the books of account of any such attorney, notary or conveyance to satisfy himself, that subsection (1) is being observed.”