How to find a divorce lawyer in Cape Town, South Africa

Genius for the Defence

Genius for the Defence was written by Benjamin Bennet, and is about the life of Harry Morris, K.C.

"Morris and Upington were the greatest cross-examiners the South African courts have known."

"Morris was born of a German-Jewish father and a German-Dutch Gentile mother. And he inherited all the characteristics of those races. He had the German's patient and hardworking thoroughness, the Jew's volatility and nimble mind, the steady reliability of the Dutch."

Henry Harry Morris was born in Beaufort West on the 14th April 1878. His father moved to Johannesburg, to seek his fortune, and the rest of the family joined him in February 1889. He started school at Marist Brothers College in Joburg, but by 1892 had moved to South African College School in Cape Town. "Morris went home witha first-class matriculation certificate" and became a solicitor's clerk.

"Just before the outbreak of the South African War the Morris family were evacuated to Durban. Harry joined up there and became one of the Comander-in-Chief's bodyguard...It is not surprising that Morris was averse to shooting any of the Boers with whom he had no quarrel. Sohe joined the stretcher bearers at the Battle of Colenso and, while performing his non-belligerent duties, he was sniped at from behind. This did not suit him and resigned as one could during that last 'gentlemen's war'. He was discharged at Martizburg on May 14, 1901."

"His first peacetime job was in the Permit Office, Johannesburg, which helped ex-soldiers to resume civilian occupations. In his spare time he studied law and was placed first in the attorney and notary examination, topping the list for conveyancing as well. He went to London to the Inns of Court. On January 26, 1906 he was called to the degree of an 'utter barrister' by the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn. He returned to South Africa and on March 21, 3 weeks before his 28th birthday, was admitted to the Johannesburg Bar."

"Advocacy could not be mastered by reading libraries of lawbooks or even by devilling in the chambers of a brilliant barrister. An advocate could no more win cases that way than a boxer fights by slamming a punchbag in a gymansium. He had to take many a pounding before he was fit to earn a living in the ring. Similarly the advocate had to take many defeats before he could make his way at the Bar."

"Morris had warned a client in a matrimonial suit that though his application would almost certainly be granted it would be futile to ask for costs. As Morris predicted, Rose-Innes gave judgement in his client's favour and then inquiried whether costs were being applied for. 'No, my lord,' Morris said tersely. Rose-Innes had, however, expected him to say 'yes' and before he could check himself, blurted: 'Well, you won't get them.'"

Some cases are lost

"A husband had brought an action against his wife for divorce on the grounds of adultery. But he got more than he bargained for and, perhaps, deserved. She defended the action and won it. Moreover, the court ordered the husband to pay alimony and a large sum incurred in her defence against his allegations. She herself was ordered to pay certain costs because they had been 'unnecessarily incurred'. She objected to paying anything. Her husband had instituted the action, she said, and lost it. She was determined to make him pay to the last penny. That was where Morris came in. Her attorneys briefed him to apply for provisional sentence against the husband for £268, the taxed amount of her attorney-and-client costs. Morris studied the authorities on matrimonial differences and contingent costs and appeared before Mr. Justice Bristowe to argue the case for the wife. This judge stood high in his estimation as a fine English scholar and purist whose judgements were models of lucidity and, he said, made 'splendid reading, particularly if they happened to be in your favour'. Morris put forward what seemed to be a persuasive, even ingenious, argument. A wife, as agent for her husband, had authority to bind him for 'necessaries'. What could be more necessary than attorney-and-client costs in divorce proceedings when the marriage had broken up through misunderstanding and baseless accusations of unchastity? Besides, no attorney would undertake a suit unless he could recover on his attorney-and-client bill of costs.

Opposing counsel, Ward, K.C., with Stratford as junior, soon destroyed that argument. A husband was liable, he said, only for 'necessary costs reasonably incurred.' The mere fact that such a bill was taxed did not prove the costs were reasonable; it fixed only a 'reasonable remuneration' to which the attorney was entitled for work done. Bristowe agreed. 'It is impossible to hold,' he said, 'that all the costs charged by an attorney acting for a lady - the defendant in a divorce action - are, as a matter of course, reasonable. The judge who made the original order said some of the costs were unreasonable and unnecessary. Yet these are included in the attorney-and-client costs for which a provisional order is now asked.'

So Morris went down in one of the cases in which Bristowe's judgement did not make 'splendid reading,' at least for him. But he had handled the brief capably and argued with the aplomb and good humour that never deserted him. His instructing attorney remembered him and engaged him in other more promising and profitable matters."

The travelling advocate

"No one practised in so many parts of the country. He would go as cheerfully to the malodorous rabbit warrens of the old Johannesburg Magistrate's Court as to the more ornate but equally smelly courts at the Criminal Sessions. He would pack his bags and entrain for distant towns in the Union and South-West Africa in the days before air travel and when road journeys were an ordeal. His puckish grin, unruly hair and thick spectacles became as much part of the judicial scene in Cape town, Durban, Kimberley and Windhoek as in Johannesburg and Pretoria.


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