Address to new callees – 26th September 2014

My learned friends,

It cannot be too strongly emphasized or too often repeated that the role of a barrister is to assist the Courts in administering justice.  The Courts do that by giving judgments.  As the great South African Judge, Albie Sachs states in his book entitled “The Strange Alchemy of Life and LawThe meaning of a judgment could go well beyond the determination of a dispute between particular parties.  Court decisions help to create the basic value system of society and establish the character of our constitutional democracy.  We, as barristers, have the responsibility of assisting the Courts in that process and therefore contribute to the basic values of our society.  We have to contribute to a society which is based on the notion of justice.

What should be our guiding principles?

As advocates we have the duty to present our client’s case to the Court, with persuasion and within the rules.  We need to know our case, its strength and weakness, what facts we need to prove and how we are to prove them, we have to research the law and get ready for trial.  In Court, we need to be properly dressed, punctual, ask the right Questions so that we can present good arguments on the basis of clear and compelling evidence in order to persuade the Judge of the Justice of our case.  Put differently, we need to give to each case our best shot and contribute for the expression of justice to be done in a particular case at a particular moment in time.  This is an important task. 

Unfortunately, it is noted that the level of advocacy in our Courts seems to have gone down.  The relationship between the bar and the bench seems to have become a little bit unpleasant.  Is it because both the number of barristers and the number of judges has increased?  We are now, I understand, some 600 barristers and we have, some 20 judges.  The number of cases has increased significantly before our Courts.  Clients have become more demanding in terms of remedies and it seems that Counsel, nowadays taken up in an environment of consumerism, are more eager to make quick money instead of delivering quality service.  Admittedly, things have changed.  With the social media, instant communication and massive publicity thrown at everyone of us, it becomes difficult to get one’s bearings right unless one has deep rooted moral values.  The barrister, by definition a member of a noble profession, must have such values and his conduct must illustrate behaviour which is compatible with that of a ‘gentleman’.

The constat of the profession today does not reflect favourably on our noble profession and I invite you of the younger generation of barristers to help to change things in order that our profession may regain its “lettre de noblesse”.   

There has been lately a lot of emphasis on alternative dispute resolutions either through mediation or arbitration.  Indeed, civil and commercial disputes can be resolved through such methods but this can never be a substitute to a proper and efficient Court system to dispense justice.  Geoffrey Robertson QC in his admirable book entitled “The Justice Game” states “The important point is that the justice game is not played for money but for people’s rights and liberties.  The first rule is don’t play unless you have to.  The second is play to win.  And the third rule is that, since winners often lose – in costs, in time, in irritation and mental fatigue – there must be more to victory than the pleasure of winning.  There must be a moral.”   

In playing the Justice game, we have to respect the rules.  We have to balance our duty to the client and our duty to the Court.  We do not pick and chose whom we represent.  We follow the cab rank rule so that anyone can knock at our door.  Once we accept a brief, we must be prepared to represent our client fearlessly in all independence to the best of our ability, unmindful of the consequences to ourselves. We do not present as true, facts which we know are demonstrably false.  We do not distort facts in an attempt to hoodwink the Judge.  We always ensure that the integrity and dignity of the profession are scrupulously maintained.  We are always courteous and respectful to the Court, to our opponent and to witnesses.  In return, we also expect to be treated politely by the Courts.  I have noticed at times that young barristers sometimes incur the wrath of the Court expressed in language which I would wish to be more polite.  If this happens to you, please refer the matter to the Bar Council which will take it further with the Chief Justice. 

The bar is not all about glamour and money.  It is about human beings, rights and duties, disputes and the resolution of disputes.  As barristers, we have the duty to ensure that people’s rights and liberties are safeguarded.   

A career at the bar is a life of hard work, of analyzing human behaviour; it involves clear thinking, good preparation, research and skilful advocacy before comes the hour of presentation in Court.  The life of a barrister is stressful.  Take time, therefore, to cultivate other interests in order to be able to cope with your professional duties.

A sense of humour can be your best ally.    Again, l shall quote from Albie Sachs.

“Humour is one of the great solvents of democracy.  It permits the ambiguities and contradictions of public life to be articulated in non violent forms.  It promotes diversity.  It enables a multitude of discontents to be expressed in a myriad of spontaneous ways.  It is an elixir of constitutional health.”

I am glad to note that some of our friends at the bar are not short of jokes, whilst waiting for the Judge to arrive in Court.

One last word for your reflection, especially for those of you who have embraced the profession in preparation to defend the more vulnerable in our society.  It is a quote from John O’Donohue, an irish poet and philosopher.  I invite you to ponder those words:-

“Part of understanding the notion of Justice is to recognize the disproportions among which we live … it takes an awful lot of living with the powerless to really understand what it is like to be powerless, to have your voice, thoughts, ideas and concerns count for very little.  We who have been given much, whose voices can be heard, have a great duty and responsibility to make our voices heard with absolute integrity for those who are powerless.”

Thank you for your attention.

Désiré Basset sc