26 June 2009 Anna Majavu – Sowetan
Strong case of unfair treatment
JUSTICE department director-general Menzi Simelane says the law firm axed by the City of Cape Town last week may bring a case of unfair discrimination against the municipality in the Equality Court.
Sowetan reported on Tuesday that Cape Town had terminated Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes (STBB) as one of its service providers after the firm took on a case for the Abahlali baseMjondolo shack dwellers movement against the city.
The city claimed this was a conflict of interest – even though STBB was not acting for the city on the same matter.
Simelane said while the city was free to choose which law firms it wanted to hire, STBB could make a case of unfair discrimination.
The University of Cape Town’s chair of constitutional governance, Pierre de Vos, said “the DA should feel rather embarrassed about this because it flies in the face of the kind of open and accountable democracy our Constitution premises”.
“There is nothing to prevent a legal firm from doing work for different groups. This sets a dangerous precedent.
“What if a lawyer acts against the national government then never gets work from them again? This might lead many lawyers not to take cases to defend the rights of ordinary citizens, and this will be bad for democracy,” De Vos said.
The city’s director of legal services, Lungelo Mbandazayo, denied there had been a purge on STBB.
“This is not the first time that the city has had to address an incidence of conflict of interest with the firm. Protocol was not observed and we determined that the best way to limit our risk in the matter was to discontinue briefing the firm,” he said.