Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter—
THE poor can now access free legal services following the decentralisation of the operations of the Legal Aid Directorate (LAD) to all provinces and some districts in the country. The Government’s decision is in line with the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset), which makes access to justice a key component under the Social Services and Poverty Eradication cluster.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also the overseer of the Ministry of Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, said access to justice was an integral obligation under Zim-Asset. He said this as he received a donation of 13 motorcycles and office furniture from Unicef, which would be used by the LAD at provincial and district offices.
LAD has been in existence for the past 23 years, but the offices were only found in Harare and Bulawayo and those in the remote parts of the country could not access the services. Following the launch of Zim-Asset, Government has scaled up LAD’s operations and embarked on seeking funding for decentralisation to ensure all those in need get free legal aid.
VP Mnangagwa said the decentralisation of the LAD would improve the justice delivery system. “The Social Services and Poverty Eradication cluster (of Zim-Asset) has been identified as the major area where we think access to justice by the marginalised must be guaranteed.
“It is for this reason that we have directed the Legal Aid Directorate to decentralise its services not only to provincial towns, but in the long term to all the districts wherever there is a Magistrates’ Court,” said VP Mnangagwa. VP Mnangagwa said that Government would recruit more lawyers to be deployed to the provinces.
He added that apart from Bulawayo and Harare, four more offices have so far been opened after the launch of Zim-Asset. “In the past two or three years, the Legal Aid Directorate has opened up offices in Gweru, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare and Bindura. Office space has since been secured in Chinhoyi with a view to establishing an office there.
“It is the intention of the Directorate to move into Gwanda before year end,” he said. VP Mnangagwa hailed the ministry’s development partners for assisting Government to achieve its goals through funding. “On behalf of the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and the Government and the people of Zimbabwe, I wish to extend profound appreciation to Unicef for supporting our own endeavours in empowering our indigent litigants to access justice, especially at this point in time, when our Government is faced with economic challenges.
“In saying so, I would like to commend not only Unicef, but other UN family partners, EU and DANIDA whom I am informed, are also keen to intervene in improving the accessibility of our justice delivery system for our people, some of whom stay in far flung areas that are not easily accessible,” he said. VP Mnangagwa said he would continue engaging the treasury to avail more funds for the programme, while urging the co-operating partners to continue rendering assistance to ensure quality justice is accessed by all.
He also applauded the non-State groups of lawyers like the Legal Resources Foundation and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association for their crucial role in providing free legal services to those who cannot afford lawyers. In an interview, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza, said LAD would provide all the services offered by lawyers in private practice but there would be vetting of those who qualify to benefit.
“LAD is more of a Government law firm, which provides all the services that we get from private law firms,” Mrs Mabhiza said. She added that where there was conflict of interest, the Government lawyers would not assist. “For example, in cases where a group of people is challenging eviction from a piece of land by the Minister of Lands, who is the acquiring authority, as Government lawyers we cannot act against the minister, who is also our client,” she said.
The Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs received 13 motorcycles, 36 office wooden desks, eight reception desks, seven photocopiers, 44 swivel chairs, 37 metal cabinets, 15 benches for clients, 32 desktop computers, 16×500 gig hard drives and 40 visitors’ chairs.