It would be 'negligent' to let lying advocate loose on the public: SCA

15 March 2019 - 11:43 By ERNEST MABUZA
The Supreme Court of Appeal has removed Margaret van Zyl's name from the roll of advocates.
The Supreme Court of Appeal has removed Margaret van Zyl's name from the roll of advocates.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) said it would be negligent to let an advocate who lied in submissions to court loose on the unsuspecting public.

The court made this remark on Thursday as it removed the name of Margaret van Zyl from the roll of advocates.

The SCA upheld an appeal by the Pretoria Society of Advocates against an order of the high court in Pretoria which suspended Van Zyl in September 2016 from practising as an advocate for 18 months.

Van Zyl, who had been practising at the high court chambers in Pretoria, had withdrawn money from the floor-fund account for personal use.

The floor fund was established by members of the second floor at the chambers to pay  monthly allowances to staff and for social functions and other expenses.

Fellow members of the bar where she practised referred a complaint to the Pretoria Society of Advocates after attempts to resolve the whereabouts of about R6,000 from the fund, of which she was in charge, were unsuccessful.

An application to have Van Zyl's name removed from the roll of advocates followed.

In her answering affidavit to that application, Van Zyl explained that the reason she made withdrawals from the account was because her Blue Bean credit account had been blocked.

She said there was no intention of wrongdoing on her part and "there was no dishonesty on my part".

However, in a further affidavit following the society’s dissatisfaction with her explanation, she admitted that the initial credit card statement in respect of her Blue Bean account, attached to her answering affidavit, was not correct.

Van Zyl had, in her words, "manipulated" the entries in these statements, as well as the balance, available money and the entries under "account summary". 

Although the high court found Van Zyl's conduct "reprehensible", it declined to strike her name from the roll.

The primary reasons for imposing an 18-month suspension appeared to be the fact that she had shown remorse, repaid the money and was a first offender.

In its judgment on Thursday, the SCA said Van Zyl  stole money from the floor fund and that these amounts were repaid. The SCA said she perjured herself in her answering affidavit in a number of respects.

It said she committed forgery and uttering by altering the entries on her Blue Bean bank account statement.

The SCA said in arriving at the conclusion that suspension instead of striking off the roll was the appropriate sanction, the high court made a decision that no reasonable court could make on the proved facts.

"Considering the serious acts of dishonesty on the part of the respondent, I am of the view that she is not a fit and proper person to continue practising as an advocate," judge of appeal Stevan Majiedt said.

He said her professional integrity was destroyed.

"Removing her name from the roll of advocates would ensure that, upon seeking readmission, she would have to convince a court that she has overcome the serious character defect of dishonesty," Majiedt said.