Legal Aid South Africa is an independent statutory body that helps the poor get tax-funded legal assistance.
Armed with a headset, the Minister joined 14 legal advisers on Wednesday to assist with incoming calls from members of the public who have legal grievances.
The issues raised ranged from administrative matters, with one person in need of assistance with their court date, service providers who have made a duck with incomplete work to labour issues.
The Minister’s quest to widen access to justice for all formed part of his Mandela Month activities.
The country today wraps up Mandela Month, in which the late former President’s birthday is celebrated on 18 July every year and is recognised as an annual international “day of humanitarian action”.
Through the engagement, Lamola encouraged eligible members of the public to utilise Legal Aid’s legal services which are available at no cost.
Following his engagement with members of the public, Lamola lauded the institution and dispelled the perception that Legal Aid South Africa provides low quality service.
“Some of the best criminal lawyers that are produced in this country and even some of the best criminal judges went through the gates of Legal Aid.
“It is clear the institution has very good governance programmes and quality standards,” said the Minister.
Having received clean audits for 18 years, Legal Aid CEO Vidhu Vedalankar said in addition to the call centre, the institution has a national footprint with 128 sites across the country, which assist over 725 000 people each year with legal advice.
Casting the legal net wider
With a mandate to increase access to justice despite budget cuts across government, Legal Aid SA said through the leadership of the Minister, it is in the process of increasing access to legal services.
“In terms of the Legal Practice Act, there is going to be a requirement where practitioners in the private practice are going to be required to provide community service,” said Legal Aid South Africa board chairperson Motsamai Makume.
This, Makume said, would alleviate the challenge of limited access and assist to increase access to legal services to more people.
Receive legal services through Legal Aid SA
While legal aid is given at no cost at Legal Aid SA, the entity aims to provide services those who need it most. This means those in need of legal service undergo a means test to determine if they qualify for assistance.
Members of the public can receive legal aid in two categories – individuals and households.
Individuals who are employed and seek legal aid must earn less than R7 400.00 per month after tax has been taken off.
To qualify for legal aid, households must earn less than R8 000.00 per month after tax.
Assistance is given for criminal cases where one is suspected of committing a crime. It is also given in civil cases where a judge needs to decide on a dispute between individuals or individuals and companies.