Social engineering results in absurdity for lawyers

Staff Writer | Jun 24, 2019
The unintended, but logical consequence of over-regulated affirmative action leads to bizarre results in the legal profession.

A race and gender row is rocking the legal fraternity because of a "one size fits all" policy that dictates how many white and black men and women can sit on new provincial watchdog bodies.

Elections for the new Legal Practice Council (LPC), which replaced the Law Society of SA and provincial law societies, were held in March. The regulatory body covers both advocates and attorneys, and each provincial council has four advocates and six attorneys.

In the Western Cape, the "unintended, perverse result" of strict race and gender rules is that a black woman has been excluded in favour of a black man, even though she got nearly 5 times as many votes as the black man.

The Cape Bar has launched an urgent high court application seeking to have the quota rules declared unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Respondents are the justice minister and the LPC. 

The bar wants the quota system replaced with something more workable and fair. It has launched a similar application in the Equality Court and wants both cases to be heard at the same time.

"While the bar supports equality, it cannot support the current approach which caps the number of positions on race and gender, even if people get the most votes," Bar Council chair Andrew Breitenbach said in his application.

The quota rules dictate that the four advocates on each provincial council must consist of a white man, a white woman, a black man and a black woman.

In the Western Cape, Jeremy Gauntlett got the most votes (164) and took the white man slot; Karrisha Pillay (162) took the black woman position; Louise Buikman (149) was elected as the white woman; and Ncumisa Mayosi polled the fourth-highest number of votes (138) but was not elected. Instead, Andre Paries (30 votes) took the black man position.

The "absurdity" of this riled lawyers. "The practical consequence is that instead of increasing representation, it has limited participation by disadvantaged groups," said Breitenbach. "The quotas also ignore the different demographics of the profession in different provinces."

In Limpopo, two black women advocates who received a high number of votes were ousted by a white man who got only four.


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