By Zelda Venter Jun 4, 2020
Pretoria – A judge has ordered that the Road Accident Fund (RAF) retain the services of its panel of attorneys for at least the next six months.
The order is a bid to safeguard the rights of South Africans embroiled in legal proceedings against the RAF.
“The status quo has to be retained for at least six months This will enable the RAF to reconsider its position and retain the social responsibility net in place, protecting the public,” said Pretoria high court Judge Wendy Hughes.
The service level agreement that the RAF had concluded five years ago, with its panel of attorneys, expired last month after it was extended for a few months.
This meant that since Monday the RAF intended to either settle its claims where possible, or matters which could not be settled were due to go on arbitration, or where this was not possible, the RAF said it would make use of, among others, state attorneys to handle the cases.
The RAF was adamant that it could no longer afford the billions it had spent on legal fees on a panel of attorneys, among others, and that it needed to take another approach in a bid to be able to have enough money to pay the claiming public.
In this regard, it insisted that from June 1, the panel of attorneys which acted for them in the past, had to hand back the case files in their possession so that the RAF could handle matters.
This caused a huge outcry among the affected attorneys. They asked for, among others, an order that they at least be able to continue with their services until the end of this month (June), so as to not leave the public and the administration of justice in the cold.
Judge Hughes ordered that the RAF’s decision not to use the panel be placed on ice for at least six months.
In explaining this order, the judge said: “It is an exceptional case and a constitutional crisis looms if the court did not intervene to protect the rights of the public.”
She said that in her judgment, “The RAF is the only institution responsible for compensating victims of motor vehicle-related accidents. The RAF has a social responsibility to continue doing so”
Judge Hughes further said that the court had to intervene to protect the rights of the public, as it was being threatened.
“The court cannot sit back supine while the RAF is finding its feet, at the behest of eroding the constitutional rights of the public at large.”
The RAF told the court that it decided not to make further use of a panel of attorneys in a bid to save money and, in some cases, to try and erode fraud.
But Judge Hughes said: “The conundrum that the RAF finds itself in is that they cannot cancel the panel of attorneys’ mandate and replace them with other attorneys funded by them to perform the same function of the panel of attorneys.”
She said this contradicted the reasons given to make do without a panel of attorneys in future. She added that the fraud and corruption of which the RAF complained did not only fall at the feet of the attorneys, but involved staff, the medical profession, the SAPS and the ambulance emergency sector.