MASERU — The Law Society of Lesotho is planning to sue a legal services insurance company, the Lawyer’s Voice, for allegedly operating an illegal insurance business.
Lawyers’ Voice is a legal insurance company.
Clients pay monthly premiums so that they get legal assistance when they need it.
It operates like a medical aid scheme.
The company holds a traders’ licence from the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Co-operatives and Marketing.
It is also registered with the law office as a private company.
But the law society says in order for the Lawyer’s Voice to operate an insurance business it should hold an insurance licence from the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL).
The Law Society of Lesotho’s president Zwelakhe Mda says the society is planning to sue the Lawyers’ Voice for operating an illegal insurance company.
“We have already warned the Lawyer’s Voice against operating an illegal insurance company but it seems they are still continuing with their business.
He said his society is concerned because the company is offering legal services.
“(The) Law Society is the regulating body for the legal profession. Therefore it follows that we (law society) should be concerned when anybody offers legal services unlawfully,” Mda said.
“Now we are concerned because the insurance business conducted here affects the legal profession which we regulate.
“We are now in the process of instituting legal proceedings against the Lawyer’s Voice,” Mda said.
He said the society has already inquired with the insurance companies’ regulating body (Central Bank of Lesotho) on whether the Lawyer’s Voice is licensed as an insurance company or not.
He said the inquiry revealed that the Lawyer’s Voice does not appear on the list of insurance companies registered with the central bank.
Mda said there is no doubt that the Lawyer’s Voice should be taken to task for operating an insurance company without a licence.
“We are aware that they registered their company in 2003 with the main objective of giving legal services.
“They are a legally recognised company.
“But they are engaged in an insurance business without authority.
“Our standpoint is that if you want to provide insurance services you should have authority,” Mda said.
But the Lawyer’s Voice, in a statement this week, denied that it is operating illegally.
In the statement the company said the law society’s attack is not in the public interest.
It says the attack is motivated by personal interest by some of the lawyers at the law society.
“It is our attitude that it is not true that the law society is acting in the public interest.
“It is our feeling that this is motivated by personal interest of some individuals, because, either we do not give them work, or we are offering affordable rates that make legal services accessible and workable,” the statement said.
The Lawyer’s Voice admits that it does not hold a license to operate an insurance company.
But “this does not mean that we are operating illegally.”
It says it has been pushing to register with the central bank but the bank has, on numerous occasions, said it (the bank) was not able to categorise their insurance business.
It further says the central bank has now allowed the company to apply and register as a short-term insurance company.
“Positively, having so consulted, the central bank through its governor (Moeketsi Senaoana) responded to our request through its letter dated 20th August 2010 and indicated as to what has to happen in order to register us as a short-term insurance company if we are still adamant to be so registered.”
The Lesotho Times saw a copy of the letter during the press conference yesterday.
“Our process of registering this way is quite ahead now that ultimately we have been given the green light by the central bank,” the statement said.
The Lawyer’s Voice insists that the law society has no right to sue them under the Legal Practitioners Act of 1983 because it (Lawyer’s Voice) does not operate as the legal practitioner’s chambers that offers legal services.
“Our company is separate and distinct from legal practitioner’s chambers hence why the law society cannot invoke the Legal Practitioners Act of 1983 on our company,” the statement said.
The Lawyer’s Voice further alleges that the law society’s attack against it is just an afterthought because the society did not complain about its business when the company began operating in Lesotho in 2003.
The Lawyer’s Voice has branches in South Africa.
“When we first arrived here in Lesotho we approached the offices of the law society headed by its present president (Mda) through our managing director (Attorney Gideon Phungula) where we informed the said office of who we are and how we operate.
“The law society never objected nor complained about our business,” the statement read.
The statement says the issue between the Lawyer’s Voice and the law society started last year when Phungula wanted a practising certificate from the law society to open his office.
He had applied for the practising certificate to open his own law firm shortly after he was admitted by the High Court as an attorney last year.
The law society could not give him a practising certificate to open the office because the society said he was aligning himself with the illegally operating company.