MASERU — An examiner for attorneys has resigned in protest after the Law Society of Lesotho appointed another examiner to set tests without informing him.
Denis Peter Molyneaux, a senior attorney with local prominent law firm Webber Newdigate, resigned on November 22 after nine years as an examiner for attorneys.
What angered Molyneaux was that the law society appointed Tankiso Hlaoli, another senior attorney, as the sole examiner without informing him.
Before Hlaoli’s abrupt appointment Molyneaux and Gertrude Tau of the Mofolo Tau-Thabane law firm were the examiners for attorneys.
For an advocate to become an attorney they must pass tough written and oral examinations.
So tough are these examinations that very few advocates are able to make the grade to pass as attorneys.
In previous years the pass rate had hovered around 30 percent.
Many advocates have repeatedly failed the examinations.
In his November 21 resignation letter to Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla, Molyneaux says problems started on June 30, a day before advocates were scheduled to write an examination he had set.
He says the law society informed him that some candidates had complained that he and Tau were biased.
“The reason given was that we only passed the clerks of our two firms. This was factually incorrect,” Molyneaux says.
He says after he explained that these allegations were not true he thought “that was the end of the matter” but was surprised to learn the next day that their examination had been cancelled.
“Within a few days the law society appointed Mr Hlaoli as sole examiner and the candidates wrote a fresh examination,” Molyneaux says.
“Whereas the pass rate in previous examinations was consistently in the region of about 30 percent, all the candidates who wrote the examination (set) by Mr Hlaoli passed.”
This, Molyneaux says, “was enough to raise questions about the integrity of the paper set”.
Peeved by the incident Molyneaux wrote to the law society’s secretary indicating there was no substance in allegations that they were biased in favour of candidates from their law firms.
He complained that the council had bowed to pressure without giving him and Tau a chance to be heard.
The law society did not respond.
Instead Hlaoli set another examination in October and conducted oral examinations.
And of the seven candidates that took the examination two failed — one from Webber Newdigate and another from Mofolo Tau-Thabane.
“In light of the background which I have already mentioned, this “coincidence” is further confirmation that the integrity of the examination has been compromised,” Molyneaux explains, adding that “In this whole unseemly business, neither Ms Tau nor myself enjoyed any support from the law society nor the convenor, Mrs Kotelo”.
“Without even obtaining a complaint on affidavit and without even requesting us to provide our version, the law society has apparently accepted the complaint of the candidates and has effectively suspended both myself and Ms Tau as examiners — as evidence by the fact that Mr Hlaoli continues to set the examinations without recourse to us all”.
Molyneaux adds: “As I have said, the integrity of the examination has been severely compromised by what has happened and I, personally, no longer wish to be a part thereof.”
On Thursday the law society responded to Molyneaux’s letter of resignation and the concerns he raised.
The law society denied Molyneaux’s allegations that the appointment of another examiner was “sparked by bias on the part of the examiners”.
The letter said during the law society’s annual general meeting lawyers had raised concerns about the “monopolisation of the profession of attorneys by South African elite firms to the prejudice of Basotho nationals”.
The lawyers, the letter said, had suggested the “circulation of the examination board members to provide for diversity of Basotho nationals in order to facilitate and to curb patronage by the above-mentioned South African elite firms to the prejudice of professional Basotho nationals.”
The law society then turns its attention to Molyneaux.
“It is evident that the said examiners have been occupying the said position for a period extending to nine years and they were from ‘elite South African firms’ a majority of them being from Webber Newdigate and that clearly evidenced the apparent ‘monopolisation’ as the members have lamented,” says the letter.
The letter also insinuates that Molyneaux and Tau had marked examination papers of candidates from their own law firms.
It says because Molyneaux says the pass rate was in the region of 30 percent he had “elevated himself to a status of regulator of the profession of attorneys to the marginalisation of many Basotho nationals who are equally capable and competent to carry out the same duties”.
The letter said the council is pained by the aspersions cast on the professional integrity and dignity of the current examiner, Hlaoli.
Hlaoli, the letter says, has been in the legal profession for the past 33 years and his record speaks for itself.
“If anything, the council holds the view that the profession was severely compromised under the leadership of the author (Molyneaux) whose threshold for quality is determined by the low pass rate and the parochial perception that standards are lowered when a Mosotho national with equal competence and credibility assumes the reigns (sic) as an examiner”.
An attorney deals with the clients directly and then instructs an advocate to appear in court.
An advocate cannot appear in court without an instruction from an attorney.
Only attorneys are allowed to handle notaries, estates, liquidations, estates, company registrations and divorce cases while advocates are not.
Also, only an attorney is allowed to receive payments from clients or deal with them directly.
There have been allegations that some advocates have been appearing in court without attorneys’ instructions.
Some attorneys have complained that some advocates have forged their signatures on court papers to give the impression that they have been properly instructed.
Some attorneys have alleged that some advocates have invaded their territory by dealing directly with clients.
Yet despite the allegations not a single advocate has been brought to book.
The law society, which is supposed to regulate the legal profession, has remained largely quiet about the issues.
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