Lawyers decry erosion of rule of law in Zimbabwe

The Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) expresses concern over the weakening of the rule of law in Zimbabwe, particularly regarding the executive’s dismissal of judges without following proper procedures.

This, they claim, erodes public trust in the legal system.

Addressing journalists at a media engagement hosted by LSZ on Friday in Bulawayo, Vice President, Lison Ncube spoke on behalf of President Rumbidzai Matambo and said lawyers remain steadfast in pursuit of its strategic objective of effective regulation of the profession in the public interest.

However, Matambo said lawyers were worried by the state of the rule of law in Zimbabwe, where even its members were arrested while conducting their duties.

“As is part of our usual mandate, we are continuously monitoring the state of the rule of law. Where we show signs of erosion of the rule of law, we raise our concerns and engage the relevant arms of the state,” said the LSZ president.

“We have also faced instances where our members have been detained or arrested or deterred from conducting their duties The case of (Tapiwa) Muchineripi and (Doug) Coltart is one example whilst the latest case involving Harrison Nkomo is another sad indictment on our criminal justice system.”

Muchineripi and Coltart were arrested last year on September 4 and charged with obstructing and or defeating the course of justice as defined by Section 184 (1) (e) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act after objecting to police questioning their clients in hospital.

Their two clients, Womberaishe Nhende and Sanele Mkhuhlani, members of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) political party, had been abducted and tortured by alleged state agents on September 2, 2023.

Muchineripi and Coltart’s charges were dropped this year in January.

Nkomo who was the lead lawyer representing former Zengeza West legislator Job Sikhala was on January 24, 2024, stopped by some police officers from entering a courtroom at Harare Magistrates Court, where Sikhala’s trial was taking place and had a firearm pointed at him despite having identified himself to the police.

The LSZ president said lawyers were equally concerned about the rate at which judges are referred to the President for the setting up tribunals to inquire into the removal of judges from office in terms of Section 187 of the Constitution.

“The decision to refer a judge to the President is one not taken lightly, and it is of great concern to us when this happens,” Matambo said.

“We have shared our views on this issue with both the Judicial Services Commission and Ministry and have also made suggestions on how this situation can be averted.”

Meanwhile, Matambo said LSZ also remains concerned about the rising number of bogus lawyers but thanks authorities for ‘always’ moving swiftly to deal with such cases as and when they are reported.

“A lot can still be done and stakeholders, particularly the media, should continue to work together to uproot such malcontents from our midst. Our website will continue to carry updated lists of registered legal practitioners and those that have either been suspended or deregistered,” she said.

“The public is urged to demand a valid Practicing Certificate from a legal practitioner each time they seek to engage one. It is their right, and they should exercise it.”

The LSZ president said the law society has not held back where the need arises to seek the deregistration of members found on the wrong side of the law, our regulations or ethics.

“The Society has also put in place resources for the review of the disciplinary process to enable agility and swiftness in the disposal of cases without sacrificing administrative justice,” Matambo said.

“Administrative justice is underpinned by due process and principles of natural justice. In this regard, the Society assures all its valued stakeholders that there is no place for errant lawyers to hide. The wheels of administrative justice may turn slowly but they certainly do turn.”

Matambo said although their processes may appear long and winding as things stand this is as provided by law and unless there are amendments to existing legislation, they can only follow what is available to us.

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