Free State Bar Council backs women’s desk against revolt

The debate over the recent adoption of a women’s desk in the Free State Bar Council of advocates rages on as proponents of the idea hit back, saying it is a credible measure to ensure greater representation of female lawyers in the council, and would help eliminate gender-based discrimination.

On the opposing side, junior counsel advocate Germa Wright – and her anonymous backers – claim that the desk is unnecessary, as there are adequate measures in place to ensure gender representation.

This week the chairperson of the bar council, advocate Neil Snellenburg (SC), issued a statement to set the record straight.

In a statement this week, Snellenburg said: “The idea that the adoption of a women’s desk as an initiative is indicative of female advocates being inferior and/or incompetent as compared to their male counterparts is expressly rejected as is the notion that some advocates are less deserving or not worthy of being members of the Free State Bar”.

He said the bar council has noted the contents of Wright’s communique and “will deal with the issues raised therein via its elected and constituted structures”.

“Although the Free State Bar respects any member’s freedom to express her/his views and opinions, it distances itself from any sentiments in the communique, real or perceived, which are not in line with the Free State Bar’s expressed values and objectives.”

However, the bar council stood firm by its decision on the women’s desk as “a further commitment to the broader realisation of the core objectives of the Free State Bar, which seeks to promote the achievement of equality within its ranks”.

He said the bar is committed to adopting and implementing “measures designed to protect and advance individual practitioners and categories of practitioners disadvantaged by unfair discrimination”.

Snellenburg said the Free State Bar has applied progressive policies to ensure sustainable transformation.

“The bar has and will always be an irreplaceable component of effective and accessible justice in South Africa,” he said, noting that it is cognisant of the legal society and members’ duty and responsibility to the broader society.

Among its core values, he said, is “the promotion of democracy; the protection and enhancement of the rule of law; the achievement of equality; the advancement of human dignity and human rights; the freedom of members of the broader society and that of each and every member of the bar”.

And further, he said, the bar set out “to promote the achievement of equality within its ranks by adoption and implementation of measures designed to protect and advance individual practitioners and categories of practitioners disadvantaged by unfair discrimination”.

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