RAF in bid to cut down on costs

Firms eye court af­ter call to hand back files

Pretoria News - - FRONT PAGE - ZELDA VEN­TER zelda.ven­ter@inl.co.za

ABOUT 42 law firms turned to the Gaut­eng High Court, Pre­to­ria, for an ur­gent in­ter­dict af­ter the Road Ac­ci­dent Fund (RAF) de­manded they hand back all files for claims they were han­dling on its be­half.

The le­gal fra­ter­nity is of the opin­ion that this re­quest would be dev­as­tat­ing for those peo­ple who instituted claims against the RAF, as their cases would be dragged out for even longer.

Apart from this, they said it would also bring the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice into chaos.

The courts deal with scores of RAF cases on a daily ba­sis, the bulk of them which are post­poned time and again.

The law firms are ask­ing Judge Nor­man Davis to in­ter­dict the RAF from de­mand­ing these case files back. This is pend­ing a later ap­pli­ca­tion in which they will ask the court to de­clare the de­ci­sion by the RAF that the un­fi­nalised files be handed back, un­law­ful and in­valid.

The lawyers are adamant that if the RAF’s con­duct is not stopped, it would leave claimants in the lurch.

RAF act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Collins Let­soalo sent let­ters to the law firms on Fe­bru­ary 18 to hand over all un­fi­nalised cases.

The let­ter read: “You are re­quired to pro­vide the fund a list of all open mat­ters by close of busi­ness on Fe­bru­ary 20…”

It is said that the RAF no longer wants to make use of the panel of pri­vate lawyers it had con­tracted to han­dle claims and now wants to use its own lawyers to cut costs.

The RAF ad­mit­ted its out­stand­ing bill for De­cem­ber stood at R17 bil­lion.

The lawyers de­manded that RAF not only with­draw the let­ter in which it was de­mand­ing the files back, but that the de­ci­sion to can­cel their ser­vices be re­viewed and set aside.

They will, how­ever, bring the re­view pro­ceed­ings at a later stage.

Lawyer Pritz­man Mabunda of Mabunda Inc, cited as the first ap­pli­cant, said the RAF con­cluded a ser­vices level agree­ment with sev­eral pri­vate at­tor­neys to serve as their panel of at­tor­neys in han­dling RAF mat­ters.

The RAF can­celled these agree­ments – a step the lawyers said was un­law­ful. While the is­sue would be ven­ti­lated in court dur­ing the re­view ap­pli­ca­tion, there is an out­cry from the le­gal fra­ter­nity re­gard­ing the de­mand to im­me­di­ately hand over all case files.

Apart from it go­ing to crip­ple those with pend­ing claims, they said it was also un­eth­i­cal as they, as lawyers, had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to act in the in­ter­est of the pub­lic. To make mat­ters worse, they said the RAF had not even ap­pointed a new panel of lawyers to deal with the mat­ters.

The RAF said this ap­pli­ca­tion was “reck­less and self-serv­ing.”

Let­soalo, in an af­fi­davit, said it was based on ig­no­rance or dis­re­gard for the law. He said the main pur­pose of the ap­pli­ca­tion was to en­sure that the RAF was un­able to ob­tain the files and im­me­di­ately set­tle cases.

Ac­cord­ing to Let­soalo, this would save on un­nec­es­sary le­gal costs, the drag­ging out of cases and re­lieve the court rolls around the coun­try.

He said the law firms were bring­ing this ap­pli­ca­tion with the hope that they could con­tinue “ex­tract­ing bil­lions of rand” in le­gal fees from the fund. “Cur­rently the fund owes claimants R17bn in set­tled claims. It is un­able to pay these poor claimants and yet spends R10.6bn on le­gal fees an­nu­ally. By get­ting rid of the cur­rent model with an un­af­ford­able panel of at­tor­neys, the fund will at least save 75% in le­gal fees. This will en­able the fund to pay claims promptly,” Let­soalo said.

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