South African Lawyers against amendment of Debt Collectors Bill

debt collectionIntroduction

In a recent publication in the De Rebus, the Law Society of South Africa (“LSSA”) expressed its discontent with the proposed Debt Collectors Amendment Bill during submissions made to the Department of Justice. Thus far Justice Minister Michael Masuta had not yet agreed to a date for a meeting with the chairpersons of the LSSA.

The LSSA’s submissions for the opposition of the Bill include among other, that the attorneys profession is unfairly blamed for ambiguities that exist in the legislation regarding the governing of emolument attachment orders (garnishee orders). The fact that legislation isn’t clear on this subject has caused a lack of understanding of the law, according to the LSSA.

The LSSA is unambiguous when they say they do not condone any abuse of people or the processes, and that South African attorneys are governed by the Attorneys Act, 53 of 1979, and that each provincial law society has its methods in place to keep the attorneys to their professional oath. The amendment to the Debt Collectors Bill aims to govern attorneys who practice in debt collection, under the same act as debt collectors. The LSSA has submitted that the amendment won’t be a resolution of problems as it is intended to be.

Effects of Bill for Attorneys

In effect what the Bill proposes is that attorneys be disciplined by the Council for Debt Collectors, rather than by the legal profession’s own structures created in terms of the Attorneys Act and the Legal Practice Act, 28 of 2014. This, in my opinion, will lead to great confusion among the attorneys’ profession, especially within firms not dealing solely with debt recovery.

The Debt Collectors Amendment Bill refers to court cases to indicate the abuse of the debt collection process by attorneys. The specific and most important case is that of University of Stellenbosch Legal Aid Clinic and Others v Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and Others (16703/14) [2015] ZAWCHC 99 – 8 July 2015.

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