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History of the NFA / Geskiedenis van die NFA

During 1997, a group of practising advocates with successful criminal law practices, in some cases besides successful practices in other branches of the law, identified the need for specialization in the South African legal profession. The driving force behind this concept was Advocate As Burger, a very well-known criminal law specialist from the Society of Advocates of South Africa (Witwatersrand Division) in Johannesburg.

This vision coincided with the same vision of the then Minister of Justice, Mr Dullah Omar, which was a fundamental principle in the policy document of the government titled “Vision 2000”.

It was decided to approach as many as possible of the leading office bearers and leading organisations in the South African legal profession to establish the degree of support for the concept of a specialist Criminal Law Bar association before a final decision would be made about the possible founding of such association. Discussions were  then held inter alia withthe honourable Minister of Justice, the honourable Chief Justice and Judges President of Provincial Divisions of the High Court as well as the Legal Aid Board, and the proposed founding of the envisaged specialist Criminal Law Bar association received overwhelming support. The General Council of the Bar (“GCB”) was also informed of the impending formation of the specialist criminal law Bar association.

Consequently the South African Criminal Law Bar Association (“SACLBA”) was founded on 1 May 1997 in Johannesburg. An important distinction between the SACLBA and the GCB at the time was that only persons who had been advocates in private practice for at least two years, and in some cases, three years, could become members of the SACLBA, while any admitted advocate who had successfully completed his/her pupillage (usually in six months) at a constituent Bar association of the GCB could immediately become a member of a constituent Bar association of the GCB.

As a result of the subsequent moving of Minister Omar to another Cabinet post , and later his passing, as well as changes in the government vision of specialization in the South African courts and in the legal profession, it was decided to change the name of the SACLBA to “National Forum of Advocates”, abbreviated “NFA”. This name clearly indicates that all the members of this association are no longer necessarily specialising in criminal law practice, but that members are involved in all branches of the advocates’ profession.

In addition to the abovementioned qualification for membership by means of proven experience in private law practice, the NFA later changed its constitution to make provision for pupillage at the NFA as well as any other practical vocational training system recognised by the NFA Bar Council as a means to acquire NFA membership. Such pupillage had thereafter already been presented in the NFA when the Legal Practice Council was constituted on 1 November 2018, and admitted advocates who had successfully completed the NFA pupillage had been admitted as NFA members. In addition the Legal Practice Council has accredited the NFA in 2019 as an appropriate organisation to present pupillage and conduct the assessment of persons undergoing pupillage as a meansto becoming advocates in terms of the Legal Practice Act. The course work (lectures) of the NFA pupillage is presented only after hours to enable admitted advocates who aspire to become members of the NFA and graduates who aspire to become advocates in terms of the Legal Practice Act to earn an income during ordinary business hours while undergoing pupillage. This situation may be re-considered if and when pupils are paid an adequate stipend during pupillage.