GroundUp takes lawyers’ council to court

Incompetent LPC decision has given the green light to lawyers who wish to commit fraud

By GroundUp Editors

3 May 2021

The Legal Practice Council refused to hold a disciplinary hearing for an attorney who committed an obvious forgery, leaving us with no option but to go to court. Illustration: Lisa Nelson

We are taking the Legal Practice Council (LPC) to court.

The LPC is the statutory body created in 2018 that is supposed to monitor and discipline lawyers’ behaviour. It has shockingly failed its duty in a case involving GroundUp and attorney Lesley Ramulifho.

We have run many stories exposing Ramulifho as a Lottery crook. In response to our stories, which for well-grounded reasons we consider entirely accurate, Ramulifho lodged court papers to try to get us to take down articles mentioning his name.

But in doing so, Ramulifho used forged documents in his court papers. Here is one example, a fake FNB bank statement that Ramulifho included to try to prove that he had not misused lottery money:

Forged FNB statement page 1

Forged FNB statement page 2

You don’t need to be an accountant to see that this statement is a forgery. For example, the numbers don’t add up and VAT is set at 15% even though it was 14% at the statement date.

There are other examples, no less serious, but the one above is stark and easy to understand.

We complained about this and other forgeries to the Gauteng LPC. It should have been a slam dunk. The LPC should have investigated properly and then have convened a disciplinary hearing whose outcome should have prevented Ramulifho — subject of course to any conceivable excuses or explanations he may have advanced — from practising law.

There appears to be nothing complicated, no extenuating circumstances, and no excuses for what Ramulifho did. On the face of it there is this, and only this: one of the worst things a lawyer can do is fabricate documents, under oath, in court papers. (Ramulifho should also be charged and prosecuted. We laid a charge to this effect — we are awaiting action by the police and NPA.)

Instead, astoundingly, the LPC’s investigating committee dismissed our complaint, without sending it to a disciplinary hearing. A Mr Y Mayet was the committee which ruled in Ramulifho’s favour, saying GroundUp did not prove its case. The effect of his ruling would appear to be that lawyers can commit forgery in court papers and face no discipline.

The LPC has an internal appeal mechanism established by law. When we tried to appeal, the LPC told us that this was not possible because an appeal tribunal has yet to be established, two years after its inception. This left us with no recourse other than to ask the Gauteng High Court to review the LPC’s decision.

Mr Mayet’s ruling is wrong. He handled an investigation as if it were a trial. That this matter was not investigated and never went to a disciplinary hearing is an injustice. That we were unable to use the LPC’s internal appeal mechanism is disgraceful.

There is a wider issue. The LPC was a new statutory body established amidst grave misgivings by both attorneys and advocates. In Ramulifho’s matter, it had its chance to prove its integrity and competence and determination to provide oversight. It signally failed. Our discussions with several lawyers reveal that there is little confidence in the LPC.

We hope that the High Court proceedings will offer the LPC an opportunity to do better. It’s a pity that a small news agency has to take the legal risk of going to court, and spend a significant amount of money to expose these shenanigans.