Howard College Law Clinic Celebrates 50th Anniversary

UKZN Law Clinic Professor David McQuoid-Mason,
Professor David McQuoid-Mason, the founding father of the UKZN Law Clinic and UKZN Law Clinic building on the Howard College campus.

The month of August marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Howard College UKZN Law Clinic. The Law Clinic was the brainchild of Professor David McQuoid-Mason, a world-renowned legal clinician, advocate for human rights, author and the founding father of the Street Law Programme at UKZN. The third Law Clinic in South Africa, it was established at the erstwhile University of Natal (UN) in 1973.

McQuoid-Mason said, ‘I was the Conference Secretary for the first International Legal Aid Conference at UND [University of Natal, Durban] in July 1973, where I learned about the Law Clinics operating in the United States since the 1960s, and those in South Africa founded by University of Cape Town students in 1972, and University of the Witwatersrand law students in early 1973.’

Supported by the then Dean of the School of Law, Professor Anthony Mathews, the Law Clinic initially operated out of McQuoid-Mason’s office with portable filing cabinets to transport files to consultations in the Chapel room in the Students Union Building on the campus for Friday sessions, and on Saturdays at the Methodist Church Hall, the Garment Workers’ Union Building or the Legal Resources Centre.

While there are 19 such clinics across the country today, McQuoid-Mason recalls that, at the time, the Law Clinic was viewed with suspicion by the apartheid Security Police and the local Law Society. ‘The police thought it was subversive, but I allayed their fears by pointing out that we were merely helping poor people to use the laws that were being implemented by the apartheid authorities. The Law Society was concerned that the clinic would take work away from the legal profession and that the students would not be properly supervised.’ He overcame this hurdle by inviting the Law Society to send a representative to sit on the Legal Aid Clinic Management Committee, and also invited its members to assist as student supervisors at the Saturday morning clinics.

The 50th anniversary of the Law Clinic is a significant milestone in the history of legal education in KwaZulu-Natal and a proud moment for the University and the School of Law. Professor Warren Freedman, Acting Dean and Head of the School of Law said that it is an opportunity to acknowledge the invaluable advice and assistance the clinic has delivered to its clients over the past 50 years and to celebrate its contribution to the rule of law and social justice in South Africa. ‘It is also an opportunity to recognise the important role that Professor McQuoid-Mason played in establishing the Campus Law Clinic and to thank all staff members who contributed to its success, including its current directors, Dr Dave Holness on the Howard College campus and Dr Chantal Badul on the Pietermaritzburg campus,’ he added.

The work of the Law Clinic remains relevant to UKZN’s mandate and strategic goals as it responds to the objectives of High-Impact Societal and Stakeholder Community Engagement; Excellence in Teaching and Learning; and Excellent Student Experience.

It currently offers quality legal services to indigent members of the public in both litigious and non-litigious civil matters, mainly in the following areas of law: employment issues; claims (Delict & Contract); deceased estates; impact litigation; consumer issues; debt; payment of benefits; divorce/separation; wrongful arrest; challenging a decision of a local authority; housing; mental health; domestic violence; violation of rights; evictions; disputes about children/family matters and property.

It is assisted by final year LLB students undertaking a module in Clinical Law in meeting the legal needs of its clients under the close guidance of Law Clinic attorneys and support from the legal fraternity.

Holness explained that the module and the work students undertake at the Law Clinic seek to give them an opportunity to acquire knowledge, skills and values to set them on the road to becoming all-round, ethical and effective legal practitioners who are aware of the social framework within which they will operate after their studies.

Most of the Law Clinic’s work is conducted from its offices on the Howard College campus. However, over the past few years outreach activities have been held in Umkomaas, Inanda, St Aiden’s Hospital and the Denis Hurley Centre in central Durban. Relationships have been forged with various organisations, with the shack-dwellers’ movement, Abahlali basemJondolo, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT) and the Denis Hurley Centre being the most recent.

Proud of the great strides the Law Clinic continues to make, McQuoid-Mason said: ‘I get great satisfaction from knowing that the UKZN Howard College Law Clinic is still operating some 50 years after I established it. In the 1970s we dealt with the consequences of apartheid and its ill-treatment of Black people, as well as the general failure by the state to curb gender-based violence and to ensure just distribution of goods and services to the marginalised. I gain no satisfaction, however, from knowing that, today, while we have had democracy for nearly 30 years, the clinic is still faced with many of the legal problems relating to gender-based violence and poverty that confronted it in the 1970s.’

In the past, the work of the UKZN Law Clinic was externally funded by organisations like the Department of Justice, the Mott Foundation and Oxfam. Its current funders are UKZN, Legal Aid South Africa and the Legal Practice Council.

Words: NdabaOnline

Photographs: Supplied

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