"Some of the country's best criminal lawyers and judges passed through the gates of Legal Aid, despite the perception that its services are substandard".
This is the view of Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola, who spent his Wednesday morning providing legal advice to members of the public at the Legal Aid SA call centre in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
"I think it's a wrong perception in society that we provide low quality services to our clients. This is one of the best criminal lawyers that are produced in this country, even some of the best criminal judges in this country went through the processes of Legal Aid South Africa, including the prosecuting authority," Lamola said.
"Some of the best prosecutors across the country went through the gates of Legal Aid," he added.
The organisation provides legal services to approximately thousands of South Africans every year, according to its chief executive officer Vidhu Vedalankar.
"As Legal Aid, we are reaching South Africans across the country. We have a national footprint in the country. 725 000 people each year are assisted by Legal Aid. We are very proud of the quality of our services," Vedalankar said.
During a telephone call, Lamola informed a member of the public that a means assessment would be required to check if the client qualified for Legal Aid.
"The gap group - people who are just missing the threshold to qualify - we look at it case by case and where there is a need, we assist. In other matters, we refer them to our partners. Unfortunately, we have to focus and assist those who are the most vulnerable due to funding," Vedalanker said in response to a question from News24.
Lamola sang the organisation's praises.
Legal Aid SA has been involved in some of the country's biggest public interest cases, including those related to the Marikana tragedy, asbestos, silicosis and Life Esidimeni.
"This is one of the best-run entities of government. We have had clean audits for the past 18 years. There is a well-established culture to remain. They (legal practitioners) are proud to be working for Legal Aid South Africa.
"So it is an institution of best practice, not only in SA but in the whole world, in terms of standards of universal access to justice," Lamola said.
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