The right to a fair civil trial: The duties of lawyers and law students to act pro bono

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Journal Title

South African Journal on Human Rights

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Volume Title

Juta Law


University of Cape Town

Vast numbers of civil litigants in South Africa go unrepresented and unadvised during proceedings which affect their most significant interests. Section 34 of the Constitution guarantees a fair civil trial. While s 35, which entrenches the right to a fair criminal trial, expressly confers a right to legal representation in criminal matters, at least in some cases, s 34 is silent on what a `fair' civil trial requires. This article considers the scope of the right to a fair trial in civil matters, sketches the history of diverse attempts to provide civil legal aid to the poor and analyses the effectiveness of the different approaches. Against a background of glaring statistics about the cost and availability of free representation, and on numbers of law students, recent graduates and practising attorneys, it considers the feasibility of compulsory programmes for the provision of civil legal aid by the state and the private sector.