Public interest versus the interest of the fit and proper legal practitioner

Author: Martie Bloem

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: LLB LLM PhD, Lecturer, University of the Free State
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 34 Issue 2, 2023, p. 333 – 348


The question raised in this contribution is whether it can be said that the South African legal profession is primarily focused on serving the public or rather on serving its own interest. The assumption is that legal practice should provide an unbiased service aimed at the public good, independent of any concern for personal gain, traditionally recognised as one of the main distinguishing features of professional practice. It is further assumed that service in the interest of the public is one of the underlying values which determines legal culture and therefore also what it means to be a fit and proper legal practitioner. In an attempt to redefine “public interest” as one of the principles that should inform the fit and proper standard, the development of the professions is briefly analysed before considering the meaning of the public interest for the legal profession. This consideration is important due to the legal profession’s positioning and resultant responsibilities in society. As perceived guardians of the public interest and justice, informed by the values of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, the profession is ideally positioned to be the cause of change but must be reminded that it has as much potential to cause harm as it has to do good. The proposal is that genuine and honest legal service in the public interest is a value that should inform legal culture and what it means to be or to become fit and proper. However, realising this potential will entail honest introspection by legal practitioners on their role and responsibilities in the practice of law and how they contribute to the current vision of the law.