Michael Richman used law to fight apartheid iniquities
Publish date: 09 July 2018
Issue Number: 781
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Michael Richman, a distinguished lawyer who used his legal skills in the struggle for human rights during a career spanning nearly 50 years, died in Cape Town recently at the age of 81 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. According to an article in the Mail & Guardian by Judge Lee Bozalek, who worked with Richman between 1975 and 1984, Richman practised in Cape Town for about 30 years from 1960. He made his mark not only as a human rights attorney but also as a top commercial lawyer. Richman and his firm – Mallinick, Ress, Richman & Closenberg – 'made a substantial contribution to the cause of using law to protect the rights of persons and organisations struggling under legal onslaught from the state in the form of political trials, detention without trial, pass law oppression, banning orders, race re-classifications and a myriad other legal instruments of the apartheid state', notes Bozalek. He adds that Richman, during the time he was representing detainees under the newly promulgated, and soon to be notorious, 90-day detention without trial law introduced by the then Justice Minister, BJ Vorster, acted for Albie Sachs, then a young advocate and political activist, in a challenge to the terms of his detention, which excluded access even to a lawyer. The application sought to allow the detainee access to reading and writing material during detention. Although the challenge was initially successful, the gains were soon reversed in the appellate division, ushering in decades of deaths in detention. Richman also built a reputation as a skilled commercial lawyer and had a unique practice, writes Bozalek. 'On any given day, he might consult with a captain of industry, a prominent figure in the anti-apartheid struggle or a township resident grappling with some bureaucratic aspect of petty apartheid.'