Access to Legal Information in South Africa. A view from a spectator
View pictures in App save up to 80% data. The move to democracy in South Africa was highly celebrated for this meant the Rule of Law was to take full effect in the country. 26 years later, has this hypothesis been proved or we fell short? Looking at the legal perspective of things, are the people fully benefiting from the Rule of Law in this country?
During the early years of democracy, in 1996 to be exact, our legal heads together with politicians came together to draft our own version of the rule of law, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (the Constitution). This little book, to be fair to the drafters, was and is still one of the best written legislation in the world (Brand South Africa 2014). The mood of the legislature perfectly flew from the Constitution to all laws written in South Africa, good on paper. However good the laws on paper may be, it matters most about how they succeed in-life.
Before we get carried away, firstly rule of law refers to the principle that no person is above the law (LexisNexis 2020). We will not focus on the definition, we accept that it is an idea for which all individuals are bound by, as such we will look at this idea in the context of access to law in South Africa.
As a South African one does not need to rely on scientific data to recognize the role social issues negatively play in the country even though we have endless legislation written to address them. This draws one towards the perception that either no rule of law exists or it is being overlooked. Below we will deal massively with access to legal information, as viewed from the eyes of a spectator.
Subjects become aware of the existence of a king through the presence and authority of the king, they are not perceived to have known there is a new king, they are made aware of it. The supremacy of the king would therefore mean nothing to a person living under a rock in that kingdom. In this context of South Africa two scenarios are at lay, firstly there are those that do not know what the law says and secondly, those that know but still proceed to go against the law. We focus on the former. For the purpose of this article, the Constitution represents all legislation in the country.
The Constitution perfectly outlines rights to the access of information (Section 108 of the Constitution) and courts (Section 34 of the Constitution) which highlighted the need for individuals to be aware of legal information. The legislature further recognized that these rights need empowerment, given the historic foundations of the country, it is understood why the need existed in the first place. Again, the law is written immaculately. However, the undeniable surge of social issues paints an ugly picture about the rule of law. The law is there but it is not fully brought to the individuals. One may innocently suggest that the law is for select members of the society who have been fortunate enough to find themselves in the world of law. When actually the law is like atoms, it is in the whole universe. The individuals who find themselves far away from planet law, they suffer the most. This may also explain why a country which has so many legal professionals such as South Africa, ranks in the worst five states in terms of law and order (Business Tech 2018). An average person may know they need a lawyer, but in reality they do not comprehend the law they allegedly have broken. Legal information (which includes human rights) is revered as a scare skill to know and understand.
From the view of an average South African access to legal information is a myth. Law is perceived as a business model only and not as both the former and a social mechanism. To the individuals not within the legal sphere feel hugely disadvantaged by the rule of law, which would directly translate that, the rule of law exists as individuals are not equal before the law. For the hard and great work done by the legislature in drafting the Constitution, it needs the same amount of enthusiasm in ensuring the awareness of the law. The main purpose of legal awareness is to ensure all individuals are equal before the law, inequality before the law is directly against the rule of law.
In closing, this piece serves as an introduction to our study; Accessing and understanding Legal Information in South Africa.