Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana have been taken to court for implementing a new fee structure for legal practitioners, says a report in The Sunday Independent.

The Pan African Bar Association of SA (Pabasa) wants the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) to review and set aside the implementation of the new fee structure.

It argues the decision – which came into effect on 1 July – was irrational, unreasonable, unlawful and unconstitutional in terms of section 172(2) of the Constitution.

Pabasa said the statutory bodies that were required to investigate and make recommendations to Lamola for the approval and implementation of the fees did not consult legal practitioners.

The new structure involves the government enforcing the use of a quotation system when appointing legal practitioners to render services on behalf of organs of the state. 

The lawyers will have to produce tax clearance certificates before they are paid for their services.

Pabasa said this would result in many legal practitioners closing their businesses and leaving the profession.

Lamola’s office is the first respondent and Godongwana is the second respondent. The African Legal Practice Council and the State Attorney Offices across the country were also cited in the papers.

Lamola spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, said they were still studying the papers. The National Treasury said Godongwana had not been served with the papers.

Pabasa's affidavit was signed by a member of the national executive committee, Nkaiseng Khooe.

The association said the insistence on the provision of the tax clearance certificate before paying invoices was in direct contradiction of instruction number nine of 2017/2018 issued by the accountant-general in the National Treasury.

This would result in grave prejudice against legal practitioners because, in many instances, they are not able to pay their outstanding tax debts ‘in view of the fact that the monies that could be used to settle the SARS debt would have been unlawfully withheld by the State Attorney Offices,’ read the affidavit.

Khooe added that the consequence of the legal practitioners’ inability to settle their debts with SARS was that their tax compliance status would then be reflected as being non-compliant, notes The Sunday Independent.

She said once the legal practitioners’ tax compliance status reflects non-compliance, such a legal practitioner could not be appointed to render services to organs of the state.

‘The conduct of the State Attorney respondents in this regard has grave prejudicial consequences on the practice of legal practitioners and, in my cases, legal practitioners have no option but to close shop and leave the profession,’ Khooe said.

She said the application was also brought in order to review and set aside the arbitrary and irrational fee tariffs imposed by the State Attorney Offices on lawyers rendering legal services to organs of state.

Khooe said although no formal communication has been issued with regard to the implementation of the ‘said irrational and arbitrary’ fee structures, individual legal practitioners became aware of the unilateral imposition of the arbitrary and irrational prescribed fees as and when they receive a ‘so-called’ request for quotation from the State Attorney to render legal services.

Full report in The Sunday Independent