Written by Rebut

Monday, 2 August 2004

The South African legal profession is like any other you'll find throughout the world. Rumours abound, jealousy stalks and that's just among the judges.

Our system like the British one, upon which it is based, is divided into attorneys and advocates. In the old days only advocates or barristers could appear in the high courts, while both could appear in the magistrates courts. That barrier has now disappeared.

If you visit the Old Bailey or read John Mortimer's incredible 'Rumpole books', you soon realise how closely our system resembles the British one. Rumpole are the short stories about an old English Hack - a barrister who appears in the criminal courts of England.

Mortimer was a barrister and I can only surmise that many of his stories are personal experiences that he has changed to hide people's identities or urban legends he has heard about along the way.

Like John I too am a criminal attorney plying my trade in Johannesburg, Soweto, Alexandra, Pretoria and surrounding courts. I have conducted trials ranging from murder to gambling and truth really is stranger than fiction.

One client who had shot his fiancee 5 times consulted me at my office. I asked him why he had shot her 5 times, to which he earnestly replied that the gun had only had 5 bullets. My query was actually why he had shot her in the first place.

One of my colleagues told us a story from many years ago. One of his clients was going to be convicted of murder and the advocates had hinted strongly to the attorneys, to inform the family to advise the accused, that it would be best if he were to take up residence elsewhere very very soon.

The attorneys having conveyed the message via the family of the accused advised counsel accordingly. On the following morning counsel were to address court with the accused's closing argument. In accordance with the attorney's advice both junior and senior counsel sat staring at the judge who eventually felt compelled to ask them why they hadn't commenced their address.

Senior counsel drew himself up and advised the darling on the bench that they were waiting for their client. "If you look behind you, you will find your client, as always, in the dock behind you". Needless to say the counsel did not recover sufficiently to avoid the conviction.

Another favourite among the local fraternity is the story of a man in his late sixties being sentenced to life plus 15 years. He advised the judge that as he was already in his late sixties he could never do the sentence.

The judge duly informed him : "No pressure sir, just do as much as you possibly can".

I've saved the best for last. On most Fridays, South African High Courts do their unopposed divorce role. As you can imagine, the fact that these are not opposed means you have any number of divorcees, accompanied by their attorneys, making their way to a packed court.

At the firm where I did my articles we called these divorcees-to-be, our "freedom fighters".

One fine and sunny friday in a packed Pretoria High Court, one notable female freedom fighter climbed into the witness box. The judge, as is the norm was flicking through the summons while the counsel was leading his client through her standard divorce questions.

The judge however noted from the papers that both plaintiff and defendant still resided at the same address. The old darling whose job includes finding out if a marriage can be saved, asked her freedom fightership when last she had enjoyed conjugal rights.

"This morning" she announced proudly to the three hundred odd other freedom fighters patiently awaiting their turn.

His Lordship, bless him, then asked the one question too far : "With the defendant?"

"No, My Lord, with my attorney!"

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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