Wednesday 12 May 2021
  • :
  • :

Shanghala reads riot act to lawyers

Minister of Justice Sakeus Shanghala says the abuse of trust fund accounts is a serious matter and strikes at the foundation, the very essence upon which the legal profession is built – trust.
This was part of his response to a set of questions sent from The Patriot following the death of seasoned lawyer Chris Brandt this week who stood accused of abusing client funds under his management.
The 67-year-old took his own life this week hours before he was supposed to be the respondent in an urgent application that was scheduled to be heard in the Windhoek High Court. In the application, the Law Society of Namibia was requesting the court to order Brandt’s temporary suspension from practicing law after it was discovered that he had abused clients’ funds.
Brandt allegedly transferred money from his law firm’s trust account, in which money was supposed to be kept on behalf of clients of the firm, to the firm’s business account in order to pay salaries and overhead expenses.
Shanghala, who referred to Brandt as a mentor, underscored that Brandt’s death provides an opportunity for the profession to rededicate themselves to working honourably.
“The sacred relationship between client and attorney extends to trust monies. Abuse of this trust has far reaching consequences extending to the degradation to the rule of law and the integrity of the legal system. A legal practitioner, contrary to public belief, is not only an officer of the court, he/she is also the custodian of our ethos and assists the legal system, the court system in ensuring that the rule of law prevails in a fair and transparent manner, in the service of society and its greater needs,” Shanghala said while reminding legal practitioners of their role.
Critics have often called on government to formulate measures to regulate how lawyers handle client funds in interest on lawyer trust accounts.  Generally, when an attorney or a law firm is holding funds from a client (such as for a retainer or in preparation for the closing of a real estate or business transaction), a trust account is opened so the client can receive interest on the money.
Asked whether Brandt’s ordeal puts the Namibian Justice System in bad light and whether his Office received cases of this nature in the past, Shanghala said: “My Office does not directly deal with disciplinary matters, as the Legal Practitioners Act, 1995 (Act No. 15 of 1995) provides for a Disciplinary Committee in section 34 which takes legal practitioners to task for contraventions of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1995 or the regulations thereto.”
“I do not think that this revelation places the Namibian Justice System in a bad light because action was being taken against the deceased, and it can only be in a situation where things go unaccounted for that we start down a slippery slope of eroding trust. When a wrong is detected, the system should take action,” said the minister.
What is concerning, he said, is that according to the information in the media, there were reports of three consecutive financial statements of the firm being qualified.
“Something could have been done sooner and I pause to question if there are no other situations of this nature where the Disciplinary Committee is rather lax and could act more decisively, and timely. This is a concern.”
Regarding the ethical conduct of legal practitioners in the country Shanghala said “more can always be done yet I want to believe that the majority of legal practitioners are honest, hard-working officers of the court guided by the oath of office.”
“What comes to mind is perhaps a need for greater oversight over the profession to ensure that such practices do not occur. Randomly selected audits come to mind.
Perhaps lawyers should be compelled to have partners and joint account for trust monies. Perhaps. These are all items under consideration,” he mooted.
“Let this tragic event cause us to reflect and together work towards restoring confidence in the profession and improving on our accountability, service delivery and transparency,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *