Most South Africans are not aware of the different platforms available to them in situations when they are aggrieved by the conduct of a legal practitioner. Some of these platforms are more expensive than others, depending on various factors which differ from case to case. One of the most recently introduced platforms is the Legal Services Ombud (‘the Ombud’), which was launched on 2 June 2022.
The Office of Legal Services Ombud was established in terms of Section 45 of the Legal Practice Act, 28 of 2014 (‘the Act’). President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed retired Justice Sirajudien Desai to head the office.
The Ombud has been given the mandate to advance and safeguard the legal profession by investigating complaints and alleged maladministration, as well actions which may affect the integrity of the legal profession. Whilst the Ombud will assist the members of the public with the resolution of disputes, it will also curb some misinformation the public might have about legal practitioners. It will investigate and resolve the disputes in accordance with Section 48 of the Act; it will also help put to bed some meritless complaints that members of the public may have against legal practitioners.
The launch of the Ombud is expected to receive a positive welcome among South Africans, as it will provide a platform for the protection of constitutional rights. Section 34 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides that “everyone has the right to have any dispute that can be resolved by the application of law decided in a fair public hearing before a court or, where appropriate, another independent and impartial tribunal or forum.” The Ombud is one such forum, which will afford both the members of the public and legal practitioners a speedy resolution of disputes, thereby giving effect to the constitutionally entrenched rights.
The Office is operational from 15 June 2022, and has published its Rules. These clearly set out how complaints are to be lodged, as well as the pertinent forms that should accompany the complaints.