Paul Ngobeni, one-time adviser to disgraced former Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and author of a controversial column for sacked Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, withdrew his application to be admitted to the Bar in the Western Cape High Court on Friday.

He couldn’t prove his claim to have an exemption certificate, which would have allowed him to practise in SA based on his US qualifications.

Ngobeni's counsel, Advocate Thabani Masuku SC, applied for the application to be postponed and referred for oral evidence to iron out disputed issues on his qualifications and background.

The Legal Practice Council (LPC) opposed his application to be admitted to the Bar.

According to a News24 report, Ngobeni wanted to bring in three witnesses to explain his battle to get a copy of his lost exemption certificate, which would have allowed him to practise in SA. He said the exemption was granted by the late Justice Minister Dullah Omar but said he had misplaced it.

Ngobeni added he had struggled to get a copy or even find the minutes showing the exemption application was discussed.

However, the LPC said there was no dispute over the exemption – it did not exist... and the General Council of the Bar (GCB) and Cape Bar submitted they investigated these issues without success. They said Ngobeni said these things in his own court papers, so there was no dispute to be referred to for oral evidence. 

The LPC's counsel, Advocate Shafia Mahomed, noted Ngobeni had not even attached copies of his US qualifications to the admission application.

Mahomed said in Ngobeni's application in 2021 to be admitted, he said he would bring the exemption, but he never did, and the Minister of Justice had no record of it either.

She submitted: ‘He's the only one saying an exemption was granted to him.'

Advocate Robert Stelzner SC, acting for the GCB, said they investigated and found no record of the exemption, and pointed out Ngobeni has made his own inquiry with them, too, and there were not even minutes or institutional memory of his case.

News24 says the Recognition of Foreign Legal Qualifications and Practice Act, introduced at the time many exiles were returning to SA, provides for an exemption to certain legal requirements to practise in SA for applicants who qualified abroad. The LPC said unless Ngobeni could produce an exemption certificate, his only option was to enrol for an LLB and get his qualification if he wanted to work as a lawyer in SA.

Ngobeni said he had not practised law at all in SA because of this situation. 

He also wanted to explain the allegation that he is a ‘fugitive from justice’ for allegedly charging clients for work not done in the US, and wanted to explain why he left the Bar in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Ngobeni was initially disbarred in Connecticut, but this was vacated, and he resigned and went on to practise in Massachusetts, but there was a controversy there, too, before he came to SA, and feels he can explain all of this himself. 

’He wants you to hear it from the horse's mouth. Not to say that he is a horse,’ said Masuku.

News24 notes Ngobeni has been trying to use a Public Protector investigation to prove he has the exemption, but the judges said they have their own rules of evidence and cannot simply rubber stamp a Public Protector finding.

A full Bench dismissed this application for oral argument. Reasons are to be handed down later.

Full News24 report