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Cape Law Society v Gihwala (14154/17) [2019] ZAWCHC 1

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Cape Law Society v Gihwala (14154/17) [2019] ZAWCHC 1

1st February 2019

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Click here to read the full judgment on Saflii

1. We have the unenviable task of sitting in judgment of the respondent, a senior practitioner who was admitted as an attorney in 1978, some 40 years ago, and who retired from active practice in 2011 due to ill-health, after a long and distinguished career. His curriculum vitae makes for impressive reading and it is worth quoting from it, as it will illustrate the startling disparity between the heights to which he soared in his professional life and the depths to which he has fallen.  Unfortunately, as in the case of many before him he seems to have been lured from the path of righteousness by the attraction of big and easy money, and the Cape Law Society has brought an application that he be struck from the roll on the grounds that he has made himself guilty of unprofessional and dishonourable conduct. 

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2. The respondent attained a B.Proc degree in 1977, after studying part-time while completing his articles, and following upon his admission became managing partner of Wilkinson, Van Der Ross & Joshua, a law firm well-known at the time for its selfless service to local communities at the height of the apartheid struggle. In this regard the respondent made his own valuable contribution as a founder member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL).  In 1986 he became an executive member of the organization and later also served as its treasurer.  

3. In 1988 he obtained a post-graduate diploma in company law from the University of Cape Town and in 1997 he was awarded a higher diploma in tax practice by the (then) Rand Afrikaans University.

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4. Over the course of time the respondent rendered many hours of service to the profession. He regularly served as an examiner for the attorneys’ admission examinations and was a member of the Taxing Committee of the Law Society and the Association of Law Societies’ Committee in Continuing Legal Education. In 1996 he was appointed to the Standing Advisory Committee on Company Law. In 1997 he served as an acting judge of the Free State and Western Cape divisions.

5. His service to the public was not confined to the legal profession. In 1998 he was appointed to represent the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs on the Perishable Products Export Control Board. In 2001 he was appointed as Vice-Chair of the Council of the University of the Free State, and co-curator of the Medicover medical aid scheme. In 2003 he served as the Chair of the disciplinary committee of the Public Accountants’ and Auditors Board, and he subsequently also served as Chair of its successor Board, the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors. In 2007 he was appointed as one of the curators of the Fidentia group of companies, after their well-publicised multi-million rand collapse at the hands of their flamboyant founder, one Arthur J Brown, who was convicted of the wholesale criminal plundering of pension funds monies belonging to beneficiaries, including widows and orphans, which he used to finance his enterprise.

6. Between 1978 and 2011 the respondent served as managing partner or chairman of many prominent legal firms: from Wilkinson, Van Der Ross & Joshua, which later became Wilkinson, Joshua & Gihwala and then Gihwala Abercrombie (after it merged with Abercrombie & Sonn), to Hofmeyr, Herbstein and Gihwala which for the sake of convenience will be referred to as ‘HHG’ (after the merger between Hofmeyr Van Der Merwe in Johannesburg, Hersteins in Cape Town and Gihwala Abercrombie in Cape Town), and then finally Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (after the merger of DLA Cliffe Dekker and HHG), currently one of the largest and most well-known and respected law firms in South Africa.

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