NWU Mahikeng Law Clinic is making a lasting impact in the local community

The North-West University (NWU) Law Clinic in Mahikeng has been in operation for 33 years. It started as a small advisory office with the assistance of students who participated on a voluntary basis.

“In 1984, the Practical Legal Studies course became compulsory for all final-year law students, requiring them to spend some time learning the practice of law at the clinic. With increased student numbers, the clinic was able to provide legal advice and assistance to more people than before,” says Mr Simon Rasikhalela, director.  

According to Simon the next change came in 1993, when the Attorneys Act was amended to enable candidate attorneys to serve their articles of clerkship at a properly constituted and accredited law clinic. “Many candidate attorneys who trained at the clinic have since entered the attorneys profession.”

Assisting with legal matters
He says their clients are mainly indigent residents of the greater Mahikeng area, but they also regularly assist clients from further afield.

“When the clinic is unable to assist in a particular matter, the client is referred to another organisation better positioned to deal with the problem. There is no charge for the services rendered at the clinic, but in some instances clients may be asked to contribute towards certain expenses such as sheriff’s costs.”

The clinic is committed to providing the best possible service, and the endorsements of our clients bear this out.

Ms Matshedidiso Sebate has been a client of the NWU Law Clinic in a divorce matter. She credits the clinic with the speedy finalisation of her case from October 2016 to 31 May 2017.

“From the start of the matter the Law Clinic was helpful. I can refer many people, because people have no idea – they don’t know that you can be poor and still receive legal assistance.”

The clinic is currently staffed by three practising attorneys, one of whom is the director, four candidate attorneys, two interns, one secretary, one filing clerk and an administrative assistant.

The clinic has a two-fold purpose: Firstly, it acts as a teaching institution, where final-year law students are taught the practice of law. Secondly, the clinic renders free legal services to the poor and marginalised communities of Mahikeng.

Simon says as a teaching institution, the clinic is part of the Law Faculty at the NWU. Upon completion of their law degrees, final-year students have to complete the course in Practical Legal Studies, which is designed to provide students with a variety of skills necessary in the practice 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 well as file work.

“As an institution providing access to justice for the poor, the clinic provides specialised assistance on a range of legal problems such as divorces, custody disputes, domestic violence, labour matters, contractual claims, consumer-related matters, delictual claims (personal injury), evictions, housing and land-related matters. Clients are represented in courts ranging from the district and magistrate’s courts to the High Court.”

Simon says 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 Legal Aid South Africa.

“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 and insolvencies. From time to time we temporarily stop taking new matters, subject to our capacity at the time.”

Simon emphasises that the NWU Law Clinic should not be confused with Legal Aid South Africa.

For more information about the NWU Law Clinic phone 018 389 2030.

Submitted on Thu, 11/09/2017 - 14:15