Tue, 18 Jun 2019

More than six years after having been disbarred, lawyer Seth Nthai has won an important victory that will see him returning to the High Court to practice as a senior counsel.

On Friday, the High Court in Polokwane ruled that Nthai's application to be re-admitted as an advocate was successful.

Limpopo Judge President Ephraim Makgoba and Judge Peter Mabuse, in their judgment, said the lawyer "has made out a good case for the relief he seeks".

Nthai - who was a member of the Johannesburg and Pretoria bars before he was struck from the roll - admitted to serious transgressions when he tried to solicit a R5m payment from an Italian businessman who was party to a dispute with the South African government over mining rights.

At the time, Nthai had been instructed to represent the government in the legal wrangle.

Secret recordings revealed the lawyer sharing his client's confidential information with the chief executive of one of the Italian companies linked to the case.

In the audio Nthai was heard promising a Mr Marcenaro - as he is referred to in court papers - that he would convince government to settle the matter outside of an arbitration process in return for the R5m payment.

The prosecutor who appointed Nthai as the lead counsel on the matter, laid a complaint about his conduct with the Johannesburg and Pretoria bar councils (now known as the Johannesburg Society of Advocates and the Pretoria Society of Advocates).

Nthai, who was once vice-president of the General Council of the Bar, admitted to the wrongdoing and for breach of confidence.

The Pretoria bar insisted he be struck off as an advocate, after a disciplinary committee found him guilty. He was disbarred following an order of the High Court in April 2013.

Nthai launched an application to be re-admitted on October 18, 2018. The Polokwane Society of Advocates supported his bid, while the two Gauteng law societies opposed the application.

Pretoria, Johannesburg bars oppose Seth Nthai's bid to be admitted into Polokwane bar

He also received the backing of human rights lawyer and senior counsel George Bizos, who provided a supporting affidavit to the court.

Nthai testified that greed, dishonesty, poor judgement and his poor health contributed to his actions.

He also told the court about his "long battle with depression and anxiety", supported by testimony from medical experts who had treated him.

Judges Makgabo and Mabuse found that Nthai had shown "contrition and genuine remorse as early as March 2010 when he wrote to the State Attorney in which he apologised extravagantly to his clients".

"After serving many years out of service, there can be no doubt that Nthai has learned from his mistakes and that he will, henceforth, not lend himself to similar strikable conduct," they wrote in the judgment.

The judges also took into account Nthai's volunteer work over six years, when he assisted the Thohoyandou Justice Centre to appeal the conviction and sentence of a Limpopo man found guilty of murder, describing this as "invaluable community work".

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