The Law Clinic has a proud tradition of rendering legal services to the community, more specifically to the less privileged and often marginalised members of the community. Largely as a response to unmet legal needs, the Clinic was in fact originally founded, managed and staffed by law students on a voluntary basis. They received no remuneration or academic credit for their services.
Although the Clinic of today bears very little resemblance to the initial Clinic the commitment to pro bono work remains just as strong. For the past few years, the Clinic has handled in excess of 2 000 cases per year.
The following projects deserve specific mentioning:
It was originally founded as a legal advice office, manned by paralegals, by the Centre of Human Rights in 1994. This advice office was taken over by the Law Clinic in 2001 and converted into a legal aid clinic. It renders a full range of legal services, ranging from advice to legal representation in both civil and criminal matters.
Since February 2003 the Hammanskraal Clinic is conducted as a joint venture with Legal Aid South Africa. In terms of this co-operation agreement the University provides infrastructure (offices, furniture, computers, use of its financial and administration systems and access to library and academia) while the LAB assumes full responsibility for the operational costs, as well as the salaries of two attorneys and four candidate attorneys.
During March 2008 another branch opened on the Mamelodi Campus providing a full range of legal services to the indigent in the surrounding areas thereto. Illiteracy and poverty are endemic to these areas, often resulting in people not being able to gain access to equitable justice. This project is funded by ABSA.
Hatfield Community Court
The main purpose of the Hatfield Community Court is to improve surrounding areas such as Sunnyside and Hatfield. This court consists of two courtrooms, namely court 1 and 2. All matters from Brooklyn SAPD are dealt with in court 1 and matters from Garsfontein SAPD are dealt with in court 2. The reason for this is that each of these courts deals with unique problems prevalent in those specific areas.
What really makes the Hatfield Community Court so unique is the diversion programme that has been implemented there. Persons that where arrested on minor charges such as common assault, drunk driving or possession of drugs and who are first offenders will be considered for this programme. This main purpose of this programme is to give offenders a “second chance”. These candidates then go through an assessment to determine which programme would be most suitable, for example, community service (zoo, hospitals, museums etc), counselling or a drug programme which provides for weekly urine tests to determine whether they are still abusing drugs. In the event of these candidates completing their programmes successfully and if their tests show no further use of drugs during this time, criminal charges are withdrawn.
The diversion programme has an excellent success rate. Drugs and drug related problems are dealt with successfully and the probation officers work closely with rehabilitation centres to assist people in their recovery process.
The Hatfield Community Court is a private-public partnership between the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the University of Pretoria, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Department of Social Development, the City of Tshwane and the Correctional Services Department.
Launched in April 2004, the court is a crucial component of the City Improvement District (CID) project that is aimed at upgrading the Hatfield/Brooklyn area. The Law Clinic maintains a permanent presence at these courts, which form part of the Hatfield Community Court. Candidate attorneys provide legal representation to those accused requiring legal aid.
The Law Clinic was, till recently, the project leader in a joint venture between the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the National Youth Services Project and 10 University Law Clinics. In terms of the Co-operation Agreement the Department funds up to one hundred candidate attorneys employed at University Law Clinics. This includes salaries; law school fees and costs of registration and examinations. Stipends for supervising attorneys and the project administrator are also provided. The UP Law Clinic acted as facilitator, auditor and rapporteur of the project.
The debt review department mainly focuses on assisting over indebted consumers by acting as a mediator in negotiating more affordable monthly repayments of debt. This includes informal negotiation with credit providers as well as formal rearrangements in terms of section 86 of the National Credit Act under the debt review procedure. Candidate attorneys in this department provide debt counselling services under supervision of two debt counsellors registered with the National Credit Regulator.
The Law Clinic, as an accredited training provider for the National Credit Regulator, also facilitates national debt counsellors training and is actively involved in the further development and streamlining of the debt review procedure.