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The University of the Witwatersrand Law Clinic

Address: 1 Jan Smuts Ave Braamfontein
City: Johannesburg
Country: South Africa
Postal Code: 2050
Phone Number: 27 11 717
Fax Number: 27 11 339
General Information:

The University of the Witwatersrand Law Clinic has been in operation for almost twenty years. It started as a small advice office with the assistance of students who participated on a voluntary basis. In 1989 the course Practical Legal Studies became a compulsory course for all final year law students. With increased student numbers, the Clinic was able to provide legal advice and assistance to more people than before. During 1993 the Attorney’s Act was amended to enable candidate attorneys to serve their articles of clerkship at a properly constituted and accredited law clinic. Many candidate attorneys have since entered the Attorneys profession having been trained at the Clinic. During 1994 the Wits Law Clinic entered into a partnership agreement with the Legal Aid Board in terms of which the Clinic is operated in conjunction with Legal Aid Board. Today, the Wits Law Clinic is one of the biggest law clinics of its kind in South Africa, and is renowned for its work, particularly in areas of public interest law and claims against the State as a result of police brutality.

Our clients are mainly indigent residents of the greater Johannesburg area, but we also regularly assist clients from further afield. During 2000 alone we interviewed over nine thousand people and opened nine hundred and thirty-eight new files. When the Clinic is unable to assist in a particular matter, the client is referred to another organisation better suited to deal with the problem. There is no charge for the services rendered by the Clinic, but in some instances clients may be asked to contribute towards certain expenses. Sadly, there are many of our clients who cannot even afford the price of a R 20-00 revenue stamp, without which a summons cannot be issued. In addition, the Legal Aid Board has taken a policy decision not to fund advocates and expert fees, save in exceptional circumstances. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Clinic to obtain the services of independant professionals in our clients' matters. Consequently, we rely on private donors to maintain a fund from which such disbursements may be paid.

The clinic is currently staffed by eight practising attorneys, eight to thirteen candidate attorneys, an office manager, a bookkeeper, three secretaries, two filing clerks and a receptionist.

What we do
The Clinic has a twofold purpose: Firstly, the Clinic acts as a teaching institution, where final year law students are taught the practise of law. Secondly, the Clinic renders legal services to the poor and marginalised communities of greater Johannesburg.

As a teaching institution, the Clinic is part of the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand. In completion of their law degrees, final year students have to complete the course Practical Legal Studies. The course is designed to provide students with a variety of skills necessary in the practise of law. These include interviewing and statement taking skills, writing skills, drafting of legal documents, problem solving, ethical and professional rules and ‘courtroom skills’ or trial advocacy. Students work on actual cases in the Clinic and are supervised by admitted legal practitioners. They are assessed by means of oral and written examinations.

As an institution proving access to justice to the poor, the Clinic provides specialised assistance to clients on a range of legal problems such as divorces and custody disputes, family violence matters, labour matters, criminal matters, contractual claims, consumer related matters, delictual claims (torts), evictions, housing and land related matters. Clients are represented in courts ranging from the District Magistrate’s Court to the Constitutional Court. The Clinic recently employed a refugee counsellor who is conducting research and rendering assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. The Clinic has on several occasions acted in precedent setting cases and a number of these cases are reported in the South African Law Reports. (see below Past Cases).

The Clinic cannot assist clients who are able to afford private legal representation. Prospective clients are subject to a strict means test laid down by the Legal Aid Board. The Clinic is further precluded from dealing with certain types of matters, such as motor vehicle injury claims (MVA), administration of deceased estates, drafting of wills, defamation matters, family and neighbourhood disputes, insolvencies, pension and UIF queries and curatorships. From time to time we cease intake of new matters, subject to our capacity at the time. We do, however, remain open for advice throughout the year.
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