De Rebus

Editor signs off after two decades

This

is the last issue of

De Rebus

since August 1988 that is being produced under the capable editorship of Philip van der Merwe. For some 260 issues, Philip has carefully scrutinised and edited contributions, articles and columns, advised the Editorial Committee on content, led the production and editorial staff in planning the issues, read and approved the final proofs and signed off the issues for print. What is noteworthy, is that throughout the years and with different editorial and production teams, each of those 260 issues has maintained its standard, quality and professionalism under Philip's hand. Also, every single issue reached readers timeously every month, without missing a beat. Deadlines and professionalism have always been non-negotiable. But besides the technical aspects of producing the journal each month, and ensuring the correct balance of newsworthy and educational contributions, a cursory glance at the editorial column will show that

De Rebus

has invariably preempted the significant debates and discussions in the profession. Whether it was calling for an independent panel to interview and appoint judges - as in the October 1990 issue - before the Judicial Service Commission was established; or promoting rights of audience for all attorneys in all the courts in November 1991, four years before the legislation was eventually passed in 1995; to pleading that the profession should ensure that conveyancing is retained for conveyancers to ensure the integrity of our land registration system - a challenge which the profession is facing today with the competition Commission; or a call for uniform disciplinary rules for all practitioners in July 1996, another issue which the profession is currently aiming to finalise. Of course, warnings of threats to the independence of the judiciary or of the profession, calls for ensuring the interest of the public are held paramount and that the public have access to legal services, where possible pro bono, are a constant thread throughout the editorial columns. As are acknowledgements of historic strides made in the transformation of the profession and meaningful legislative changes achieved. The list of issues highlighted by Philip in the editorial column is daunting. It is a history of both the challenges and achievements Philip van der Merwe retired at the end of January 2011 after more than two decades at the helm of

De Rebus

. of the attorneys' profession over the past two decades. In itself the editorial comments have gone a long way to ensuring that

De Rebus

remains a credible and authoritative mouthpiece for the profession as well as a mirror and valuable record of the developments in and views of the profession.

Through

his attendance at conferences of the International Bar Association, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the SADC Lawyers Association, Philip has reported on developments in other jurisdictions and made them relevant to local attorneys who would not necessarily have had access to the information, particularly in the years before the advent of the internet. Over the years, Philip has interviewed prominent practitioners, new Chief Justices and Ministers of Justice. All of these contributions weave into a rich, historical tapestry of the profession through the pages of

De Rebus

. Philip joined

De Rebus

in mid-1988 after moving to Pretoria from Cape Town. He

TRIBUTE

brought with him that rare combination of skills, which comes with being both a journalist and an attorney. He worked as a reporter for the famous Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg and later as a journalist for The Argus in Cape Town where he honed his precise and impressive writing skills. He then worked as an editor at the South African Law Reports after spending some time in practice in Cape Town as an attorney and later as an advocate.

Although

the slick production and professional presentation of the journal did not waver, there were challenges that had to be faced by Philip as the management member responsible for the journal. These included budgetary constraints and policy debates, such as the language issue. Although the Attorneys Fidelity Fund has always been generous in its financial support of

De Rebus

, careful budgeting and content balance with advertising income had to be managed to contain costs. Philip navigated the language issue storms that erupted occasionally with sensitivity, always determined that what was in the best interest to ensure that readers have access to the educational value of

De Rebus

, would prevail. The strict policy of editorial independence from its publisher - the Law Society of South Africa - and from advertisers and contributors, which Philip and the Editorial Committee have jealously guarded and applied throughout the years warrants special mention. This policy has maintained

De Rebus

' credibility in the eyes of its readers, who have felt free to voice their views and criticisms in the letters and opinion columns of the journal. Similarly, Philip has criticised constructively where criticism was due. The attorneys' profession owes a huge debt of gratitude to Philip. He can enter his retirement safe in the knowledge that his contribution has been invaluable and one that will remain etched in every page of the 260 issues of

De Rebus

that he has edited. We wish Philip and his wife Moira well for the years ahead. Barbara Whittle, Communication Manager, Law Society of South Africa barbara@LSSA.org.za DE REBUS, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2011 5 q

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