The admission and enrolment of foreign legal practitioners in South Africa under the Legal Practice Act: international trade law and constitutional perspectives

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 17
  • SDG 16
  • SDG 8
  • Abstract:

    Globalisation requires ever closer co-operation between legal professionals hailing from different national jurisdictions. This interactive global environment has fostered growing international training and mobility among legal practitioners and the internationalisation of legal education. Increasing numbers of law students get trained in other countries as part of their undergraduate degrees or even come to foreign shores to obtain law degrees. Many students hailing from other African countries study towards LLB degrees at South African universities. Major commercial law firms ensure that they can offer in-house expertise on major foreign legal systems and co-operate with partner firms in other parts of the globe. The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), to which South Africa is a party, is a multilateral agreement focusing on the liberalisation of trade in services amongst member countries. Services under the GATS system include legal services. The commitments made by South Africa under this agreement require that South Africa allows foreign legal practitioners to establish a commercial presence or be transferred to South Africa. The Bill of Rights entrenched in Chapter 2 of the South African Constitution guarantees fundamental rights including the right to equality and freedom of trade, occupation and profession. With the coming into force of the new Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014, which provides a legislative framework for regulating the affairs of legal practitioners, including their admission and enrolment, it is necessary to assess the extent to which the Act complies with the GATS rules and the South African Constitution. This paper examines the new Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014, and examines whether the Act addresses the conflicts that have always existed between the regulation of the legal profession and the admission of legal practitioners in South Africa with South Africa's commitments under the GATS system. Using the doctrinal legal method, it analyses and evaluates the rules governing the admission of foreign attorneys in South Africa from two perspectives. First, it considers them in the light of the international law obligations of the country and second it evaluates whether or not they comply with the South African Constitution, and more specifically with the Bill of Rights entrenched in the South African Constitution. While the new legislation may assist in ensuring the compliance of South Africa with the relevant GATS rules, it will depend on the regulations which still have to be promulgated to what extent the new legal framework will achieve the full compliance of South Africa with all relevant GATS rules. The paper concludes with recommendations for the reform of the Legal Practice Act. It argues that while the requirement to be a South African permanent resident in order to qualify for admission as an attorney may be justifiable in terms of GATS and in terms of South African constitutional law, it is not in South Africa's best interest to retain it. Consequently, the paper calls for the repeal of the permanent residence requirement for admission as an attorney in the county.