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News - Date: 08 July 2018
Written by: Anton van Zyl / Viewed: 8663
A Thohoyandou-based legal practitioner caused major havoc in the High Court after it was ruled that he had acted as an attorney since 2011 without the necessary certificates in place. This may mean that the outcome of dozens of court cases can now be challenged, and trials will have to restart.
In a circular sent out last week, Limpopo Judge President Ephraim Makgoba called on other legal practitioners not to “jump the gun” and try and challenge court cases but to wait for the Supreme Court of Appeal to rule on the matter. He pointed out that the High Court ruling has serious ramifications, for example in divorce matters, the parties would now stay married to each other. In cases where money has been claimed and execution proceedings have taken place, such transactions may have to be reversed. Even criminal cases where the legal practitioner appeared on behalf of clients may have to be re-opened and trials will have to start afresh.
Judge Makgoba said the respondents in the case had filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Appeal. He requested legal practitioners to wait until this court has ruled on the matter before taking any action.
The lawyer’s conduct formed the centre of a court case between NW Civil Contractors and Anton Ramaano Inc and the Thohoyandou Sheriff of the Court. The case served in the Limpopo High Court in Thohoyandou and Judge Legodi Phathudi made his ruling on 14 May.
The respondents in the original case (dating back to September 2016), Ramaano and the Sheriff of the Court, complained that the applicant (NW Civil Contractors), had been represented by an attorney who, at the time, did not have a Fidelity Fund Certificate issued by the Law Society. Without such a certificate in place, legal practitioners are not allowed to represent clients in court cases. Ramaano and the Sheriff took the matter to the High Court, requesting that the proceedings be declared null and void.
Vhutshilo Licollin Nange from Thohoyandou admitted in court papers that he had practised without a Fidelity Fund Certificate since 2011. The legal representatives representing his former client argued that the Attorney’s Act does not prohibit an attorney without a Fidelity Fund Certificate from practicing. Such a person will simply not be entitled to receive any compensation while acting for clients.
Judge Phathudi did not agree with this argument and quoted Section 41 of the Attorney’s Act wherein it very clearly states such a pre-condition. Section 83(10) of the Act further states that any person “who directly or indirectly purports to act as a practitioner or to practice on his or her own account or in partnership without being in possession of a fidelity fund certificate, shall be guilty of an offence.”
“The fidelity fund protects the funds deposited by members of the public against misappropriation of the money they have entrusted to attorneys,” Judge Phathudi said.
The High Court judge was clearly not very impressed with the advocate who had acted on behalf of NW Civil Contractors. Advocate N Makhani described his colleagues as “clueless” and “lazy”. Judge Phathudi described his conduct as arrogant and asked him to retract his derogatory comments, but he refused. The judge left it there with the dry remark “O tempora! O mores!” (An exclamation often ascribed to Cicero, translated to mean “Oh, the times! Oh, the customs!” but more accurately as “Oh, what times!”)
The judge’s irritation with the legal representatives of NW Civil Contractors clearly showed in his ruling. Not only did he declare the proceedings in the original case null and void, he also awarded a cost order against the original applicant. In an unusual step, he ordered that the applicant’s legal representatives be precluded from claiming back any fees incurred from 24 April 2018 from their client.
Mr Sipho Mdluli from the Law Society of the Northern Provinces confirmed last week that Vhutshilo Nange had been suspended on 29 August last year. He said the reason for his suspension was that he had not completed a compulsory practice management course. He confirmed that Nange’s Fidelity Fund Certificate was not in place.
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Vhutshilo Nange photographed in 2016 when he was representing the 18 people accused of involvement in the Vuwani violence. The suspects were accused of being behind incidents of violence in Vuwani that left more than 20 schools gutted.
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror for over 27 years. He graduated at the the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.