Anton Katz quits Cape Bar Council, citing regressive attitudes, Newsline

Cape Town – Senior counsel Anton Katz has cited the housing policy of the Cape Bar, and its implications for young black and female advocates in particular, as his reason for quitting the professional association after 30 years.

Katz has resigned with effect from December 31 after unsuccessfully seeking to be exempted from the council’s rule that stipulates that members must keep chambers approved by the Bar Council, except where they could demonstrate “good cause” otherwise.

In his four-page letter of exemption dated November 4, Katz said his recent application for an exemption was initially rejected without affording him a hearing.

This was then overruled by the chairperson of the bar, and a virtual hearing was held on October 22.

In that hearing, Katz declined to state the personal reasons that in part motivated his wish to relinquish his chambers.

However, he said he was prepared to do so in a private call to any council member who did not accept his bona fides.

“My key but not sole reason for resigning is that I feel that I have been treated by the bar council in a manner I would not treat others”.

But the prominent silk’s resignation letter also refers to what he considers the broader impact of the policy and the prevailing, outdated culture of the council.

Katz said when he became a member of the bar in 1990, he was struck by the generally racist and sexist attitudes he encountered there.

“Although those attitudes have somewhat ameliorated, the general societal attitudes are by their nature still in evidence in the legal profession generally.”

He said this was at odds with his personal experience of members of the bar council and profession as being generally sensitive to what he termed “the realities of South African society” and giving profound thought to addressing inequality and serving the rule of law.

However, he added, an authoritarian mindset lingered and though it had lessened, “remained part of the culture at the Cape Bar, and in particular, it seems the Bar Council”.

Failure to play by the rules, he remarked, resulted in being branded rebellious.

In the resignation addressed to the chairperson of the Bar Council, Brenton Joseph, he ventured: “I do not envy your position: that is, leading what appears to be a majority of members of the Bar Council, who do not demonstrate attitudes and values I associate with collegiality, general fairness and, quite simply, a sense of constitutionalism.”

Katz suggested that the housing rule proved prohibitive to young entrants to the bar and said it was his understanding that as of September 9, rental arrears at the Bar were “at more than a staggering R9 million”.

At the Keerom Street premises in downtown Cape Town, where his chambers are situated, alone the figure stood at R890,768.

Katz noted that his rental had been timeously paid for 30 years and that he had not asked for assistance in this regard.

He said he would continue to practise as an advocate in Cape Town.

His resignation from the Bar Council follows on the heels of that of fellow silk Ishmael Semenya from the Johannesburg Society of Advocates after 34 years.

Semenya said his decision was triggered by a resolution not to allow non-members of the JSA to practise from the Pitje Chambers on Pritchard Street next to the high court in Johannesburg.

African News Agency (ANA)