Over 170 lawyers struck off the roll for financial misconduct

Between 2021 and 2023 LPC received over 30,000 complaints

08 December 2023 - 07:17
By Noxolo Sibiya
The Road Accident Fund says people can
lodge a claim directly with it.
Image: Supplied / ER24 The Road Accident Fund says people can lodge a claim directly with it.

Over 170 legal practitioners have been struck off the roll and barred from practising in the past three years for acts of misconduct, some of which are linked to Road Accident Fund (RAF) claims.  

These misconducts include the misappropriation of funds, practising without a Fidelity Fund Certificate (FFC) and for bringing the profession into disrepute, the Legal Practice Council (LPC), which oversees the conduct of lawyers, has said.

LPC spokesperson Kabelo Letebele said between 2021 and 2023 they had received over 30,000 complaints against legal practitioners concerning misconduct.  

He said in the past three years, 175 legal practitioners were struck off the roll after being found guilty of misconduct while 310 were placed on suspension pending court outcomes. 

“Instances such as misappropriation of funds and fraud are usually referred to court where the LPC applies for suspensions and, more often, the strike off legal practitioners. This means they can no longer practise as lawyers,” he said. 

“...when the court has to determine whether to strike off a legal practitioner, and this would often take some time to finalise especially given that there are appeals or need for further investigations. [In such cases] we often ask for a suspension as an interim measure or the court will grant a suspension as an interim pending investigation,” he said. 

At least 102 law firms, including sheriffs, are being investigated for looting R340m in state funds by submitting duplicate claims to the RAF. 

The ongoing probe by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which started in 2021, has so far found that some law firms had duplicated payments submitting the same claim more than once to the RAF. 

SIU has so far referred 12 law firms or legal practitioners to the National Prosecuting Authority for criminal prosecution consideration associated with the misappropriation of funds relating to RAF claims. 

Five legal practitioners have been struck off the roll. 

Letebele said such matters were classified under misappropriation of client funds and where a guilty finding was made the complainant could apply to the Legal Practitioners Fidelity Fund for a possible payout of their funds from the insurer for amounts not exceeding R5m. 

“However, the legal practitioner, at the time of handling the matter, must have had a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate,” he said. 

“It is very important for members of the public to ensure that when making use of legal services, to first check that the practitioner is listed on the LPC website as a duly admitted legal practitioner. Also as important, a member of the public needs to confirm that the legal practitioner has a valid FFC in the event that there is a complaint that involves loss of funds – to be able to submit a claim to the Fidelity Fund if there is misappropriation of funds.”

What You Need To Know

A FFC exists to protect the public against loss as a result of theft of trust fundsThe certificate is valid for a year, from January to December of a year. If it is not displayed on your legal practitioner’s wall, ask to see it. 

Losses covered by the fund include the theft of money from deceased or insolvent estates, money held pending registration of the transfer of immovable property and settlements in personal injury claims. 

To claim losses one needs to give notice of the claim to the LPC of the province in which the legal practitioner practises and to the fund, within a period of three months after the claimant became aware of the theft.

The claim should be submitted to the fund by way of an affidavit. Such an affidavit will serve a dual purpose.  firstly, for the purpose of proving a claim against the fund, and secondly, to assist the SAPS in instituting a criminal investigation and prosecution.