A cancer survivor, Advocate Samantha Law was nominated for judicial appointment by another go-getting female lawyer at the KwaZulu-Natal Bar, Advocate Andrea Gabriel SC.
In her letter of nomination Gabriel commended Law for her “adventurous legal mind” and the generous support Law provided to her when she first joined the male-dominated Bar.
Law built up a general practise with a specialisation in family law. Other legal fields of experience in the civil sphere include contract, special contract, trusts, estates and property law. She has appeared at the Supreme Court of Appeal and regards her “extremely hard” work ethic, charging reasonable or no fees so as to make herself available to people who require her services and conducting her practise with integrity as some of her major contributions to the law and pursuit of justice in South Africa.
Law holds a BA, an LLB and a post graduate diploma in industrial relations from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. A practising advocate since 1995 she has also worked as a commissioner at the Small Claims Court and spent three acting stints at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court.
During one of those acting stints Law was called on to adjudicate an appeal against the minimum life sentence imposed on a man who had raped a girl under 16-years-old multiple times. One of the arguments raised was that the age of the appellant — he would be 76-years-old when he qualified for parole — should be considered.
In dismissing the appeal Law, with KZN Judge President Achmat Jappie concurring, noted “that in terms of the minimum sentencing legislation, there were two grounds which rendered the appellant liable to the imposition of a life sentence, namely, the complainant was under the age of 16 and the appellant raped her multiple times. The Magistrate did not misdirect herself in coming to the conclusion that a life sentence was the only appropriate sentence.”
“Whilst the relatively advanced age of the appellant is a factor to be considered in sentencing … it cannot be said that the sentence imposed by the Court a quo is shockingly inappropriate such that our interference is warranted,” ruled Law.
April 2018 Interview Synopsis:
Inevitably, someone at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) could not ignore punning Advocate Elizabeth Law’s name. That person was the “premier judge” of the Republic, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who opened Law’s interview by asking whether her name had “propelled” her towards pursuing a career in law.
Dutifully, Law laughed, before the smile on her face tightened as she responded that she gets asked that quite often.
Law described how, after completing her legal studies in 1992, she had taken a “gap year” in England where her experiences of working in the catering industry had taught her humility, patience and empathy. She also understood, for the first time, what it felt like to endure the brunt of discrimination and had “learnt not to judge a book by its cover”.
A potentially seminal moment for a white South African who may have been closeted from the brutal discrimination entrenched in her country. Certainly for someone returning to a New South Africa preparing to embrace non-racialism in the early nineties. So Justice Minister Michael Masutha was “concerned” that in her 23 years as an advocate Law had never demonstrated the “desire” to “tag on junior members of the Bar who were African or African women”.
Law said it was “not a matter of choice” and that her door was “open for mentorship”. Masutha pushed back on her response, observing that perhaps it was less a matter of being approached by juniors and more a “two-way street”: “I am trying to understand if you are a transformation agent, inherently,” he told Law.
“It is so that I have not actually gone out and said ‘Come along and get involved in this case,” said Law, before adding that she had “put it out there that my door is always open and my wing is there to come under”.
A response that did not impress many on the JSC, including Advocate Dali Mpofu SC who, later in the interview asked her why her experiences in England “did not compel you” to take concrete steps “to ensure that black and black female advocates are not ‘judged by their cover’”?
Law said while she had not “pulled people on board” she “had been empathetic” to the problems and hindrances to their career that female and black lawyers in the sector face.
She was also quizzed about not developing her practise beyond family law and why she had not been conferred silk status. Law told the commission that she had not pursued silk for “partly altruistic” and “partly selfish reasons”.
Altruistically she didn’t want to price herself out of the pockets off her clientele who were in the main middle-class and selfishly, she needed to make a living so “didn’t want to price herself out of the market”.
Mogoeng then asked her whether it was “something about your performance as an advocate that has held you back” from developing a wider range of law practise and being conferred silk? Law said she did “not believe there is anything about my performance as an advocate that has held me back”.
Law was not recommended by the JSC for appointment.