The ‘clearly high’ legal costs in the country have come under scrutiny of a commission investigating ways to broaden access to justice. The Star reports commissioners of the SA Law Reform Commission (SALRC) have started criss-crossing the country to hear from communities on how lawyers’ fees blocked citizens from accessing the courts.

They have already visited the Free State, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape. ‘The overall aim of the commission’s investigation is to find ways to broaden access to justice and to make legal services more affordable to the people, while taking into account the interests of the public and of the legal profession,’ said the SALRC in its document inviting public comments.

Chaired by Judge Jody Kollapen, the commission accepted as common cause that legal fees were exorbitant and unaffordable to many. ‘The majority of South Africans are unable to access lawyers because of unattainable legal fees, making access to justice a commodity that only the privileged can buy,’ said the SALRC.

‘The cost of legal services in SA is clearly high.’

The SALRC said lawyer costs were not only unaffordable to the general population but to the government, too.

‘The setting of legal fees has remained largely the domain of the legal profession itself, with little meaningful intervention by the state or consumers of legal services.’

The SALRC will supply its final report containing recommendations to the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development.

Full report in The Star (subscription needed)

Issue Paper 36: Investigation into Legal Fees