Technicalities dominate LSN, Namandje tussle

14 May 2020 | Justice

JEMIMA BEUKES

WINDHOEK

Senior counsel Raymond Heathcote, representing lawyer Sisa Namandje in a High Court battle with the Law Society of Namibia (LSN), yesterday argued that the supervisory body got its wires crossed and confused its roles, going beyond its power to regulate.

Namandje, who denies that he is unwilling to cooperate with the investigation into potential links to the so-called Fishrot bribery scandal, has been dragged to court by LSN chairperson Retha Steinmann, who applied to the High Court for a search and seizure warrant.

Namandje claims that in its court application, the LSN disregards the fundamental issue of client-attorney privilege.

Heathcote yesterday emphasised that a search and seizure warrant is nothing but the “ransacking of an office”, pointing out that attorney-client privilege cannot be foregone.



'Disillusioned'

“There is a distinction between inspect and investigate,” he said.

Heathcote added that it is unacceptable for the LSN to “abuse” its power as regulator and shout “public interest.”

According to him, the “disillusioned” law society leaped to action after immense pressure from the media and others, following allegations in the Al Jazeera Fishrot documentary, that Namandje's trust account was used to launder money for those accused in the bribery scandal.

WikiLeaks documents allege that state-owned fishing entity Fischor paid N$17.5 million into Namandje's trust account in 2015 and 2017.

This money was allegedly linked to the scandal in which former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau, former justice minister Sacky Shanghala and others are implicated.

The two former Cabinet ministers and four others have been arrested and are in custody.



Professional standards

LSN legal counsel Unomuinjo Katjipuka-Sibolile yesterday stressed that the LSN's core function is to promote and ensure high standards from legal professionals.

She also pointed out that self-regulation by a legal practitioner is important.

However, she stressed that it is not imposed or adopted to allow lawyers to be free from scrutiny.

“It is invariable always linked to the independence of the judiciary. The independence to legal professionals is not only accorded for their own benefit or to shield them from being held accountable in the performance in the duties. The purpose is to protect the people by affording them a platform from which they can pursue and ultimately exercise and protect their constitutional rights,” she said.

The duties owed to clients are to act honourably and observe high professional standards to the public.

“Now in order to maintain these high professional standards, the statue has created the LSN, governed by a council given specific powers and functions,” she said.

According to her, the circumstances the LSN is not investigating is the conduct of Namandje's clients, rather but his conduct.

“What is clear is that you cannot launder funds and keep to the requirements of the trust account.

“So, the reaction of the LSN and action required is an inspection of the trust account. The information that gives rise to this reasonable belief depends on the facts of the particular case,” she said.

The matter continues in the High Court today.



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