Access to Legal Services
Public interest legal services organisations facilitate access to justice in two principal ways. First, these organisations provide specialised legal services that are not generally available on the commercial legal services market. Second, they do so free of charge to the beneficiaries of those services. The ordinary commercial bar, and most law firms tailor their operations to paying clients. Public interest legal services organisations represent the vulnerable and the excluded, as the inability to afford legal representation is itself a hallmark of social exclusion. These key features of public interest practice mean that public interest legal services organisations have the most to gain from, and are uniquely placed to press for, the regulation of legal fees and the transformation of the legal profession.
Public interest legal services organisations have accordingly been forced to develop a number of strategies to keep the cost of legal services down. These include: negotiating fees on an individual basis, placing caps on the amount of money they are prepared to pay for legal services, employing in-house counsel, encouraging attorneys to do more advocacy, establishing fee flexible fees guidelines and relying on mandatory pro-bono work prescribed for private legal practitioners. (Read the full report here: Public Interest Legal Services in South Africa)
Legal Aid SA receives mostly state funding and some private funding to help indigent clients access legal services. Legal Aid SA is compelled to annually publish the Legal Aid Guide that sets out fee structures and procedures for its matters for which external legal practitioners are retained. These guidelines on tariffs of fees and disbursements in criminal and civil matters helps to create uniformity in the way that fees are handled.
The fees and disbursements in the documents below came into effect on 1 April 2017, and apply to work done on or after 1 April 2017.