History of the UP Law Clinic
At the University of Pretoria students began organising to form a clinic in the beginning of 1980. In response the Faculty Board of the Faculty of Law instructed Dr (later Professor) HP (Henning) Viljoen in July 1980 to investigate the viability and desirability of founding a legal aid clinic.
Viljoen found that some months earlier a group of 13 idealistic and enthusiastic law students under the leadership of a LLB student, Gys Rautenbach, had in fact started a "legal aid clinic" in Eersterust, a the Coloured Township, east of Pretoria. On the 28th of May they began advising clients from offices provided to them free of charge by the Child and Family Welfare Organisation (Rautenbach himself had in fact been giving advice to people from a class room at a local school since the end of 1979)
The clinic that Viljoen describes in his report to the Faculty Board bears very little resemblance to the Law Clinic of today, save for its commitment to pro bono work. This clinic functioned on a limited scale (one night per week for two hours). Legal aid was restricted to giving advice and referring people to the Legal Aid Board. Supervision by some Law lectures was on an unorganised and very informal basis. The clinic was affiliated with UPSOK, the welfare organisation of the University and would thus be entitled to a small grant form UPSOK. Viljoen expressed his concerns regarding the sustainability of the clinic and the quality of the legal advice given. He suggested that the clinic be structured and that members of faculty become involved in an organised way.
His recommendation that the clinic be constituted was accepted “in principle" at a Faculty Board Meeting on the 20th of September 1980. A committee consisting of Viljoen as convenor, the dean, Prof DH Botha and Mr (later Prof) FE (Frans) van der Merwe, was appointed. A constitution for the law clinic was drafted and adopted in 1981 and a student management committee was elected from the ranks of the student volunteers. In terms of the constitution any student who had passed Roman Dutch Law II, as well as any full time lecturer could become members of the clinic.
The unfulfilled and growing need for legal services, structuring of student involvement at the clinic, a shortage in resources and funds as well as certain innovative practices to curtail these challenges form the background against which the structure, activities and composition of the clinic over the past 30 years should be viewed.
1980 13 law student volunteers form first clinic in September. Faculty Board grants approval in principle for a legal aid clinic
1981 Constitution adopted
1984 Clinic placed under Deptartment of Procedural Law
1986 Service of a retired attorney acquired (3 days per week)
1987 Practical Law 500 introduced. No longer volunteers, but students enrolled for academic credit carrying subject.
1988 First full time director appointed
1992 First candidate attorney appointed
1995 First Cooperation Agreement with Legal Aid Board
2000 First permanent full time University sponsored director appointed
2001 Branch Clinic opened in Hammanskraal
2003 Award for Educational Innovation
2005 Clinic moves into own building on Hatfield Campus
2008 Branch Clinic opened in Mamelodi
2010 Law Clinic celebrates it's 30th anniversary and hosts an international conference. Clinic also moves to new Law Clinic Campus.
The Law Clinic presently operates from a premises at Hatfield Campus as well as from the Hammanskraal Campus and as from January 2008 from the Mamelodi Campus.
Over the past 30 years the university law clinic evolved from voluntary pro bono work where students without fee, reward or academic credit provided or assisted in the provision of services that provided or enhanced access to justice for low income and disadvantaged people, to structured legal aid providers staffed by attorneys and candidate attorneys and assisted by students enrolled for an academic credit carrying course.