The Attorney General Johannes Tomana has started a project to see if there are grounds to prosecute individuals fingered by the WikiLeaks.
The state wants to know if the leaks contain any information which could lead to prosecution of individuals involved in alleged acts of treason.
The AG, it was reported in the media yesterday, has set up a team of five lawyers who are in private practice to give the AG legal opinion on whether there is need to prosecute anyone using information contained in the leaked diplomatic cables.
The AG announced that the names of the lawyers who form the probe team are being kept secret to protect the integrity of the panel and its independence.
The AG has also said the setting up of the probe team is in accordance with Section 76, subsection 5 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
This section says: “The powers of the Attorney-General under subsection (4) may be exercised by him in person or through other persons acting in accordance with his general or specific instructions.” Section 4 sets out the powers of the AG to prosecute or to discontinue proceedings.
While the AG is empowered by the law to seek assistance in probing the WikiLeaks saga, we find it strange that he would want to keep secret the names of the panel of experts carrying out a national duty.
The public has every right to know which lawyers are lending themselves to this government project. The public must also be told the basis on which the lawyers were selected, their actual terms of reference and remuneration thereof.
These are lawyers who are expected to help the state with opinion on whether or not to prosecute individuals.
If these are leading legal minds in the country, chances are that they would find themselves faced with an invidious situation where they have to recommend the prosecution of their existing clients.
Will they do this or they will find a way of protecting their clients and friends? There are fears that hiring private attorneys to do work on behalf of the state will result in the power of government being wielded by lawyers more interested in benefiting themselves than in doing justice.
The phenomenon of using private lawyers to work for the AG is always going to be a contentious one in this country because there are lawyers who have oftentimes declared their allegiance to political parties and have, as a result, been given government work.
The state has hired the private lawyers to represent the government in land-related suits at the regional Sadc tribunal. Private lawyers have also taken government work in issues to do with diamonds.
More often than not it has been those politically correct attorneys who have been awarded the work.
In the current instance — when stakes are higher and the implications of the lawyers’ findings having a huge impact on the country’s politics — it will not surprise us if the panel is made up of lawyers of a particular political persuasion.
The quest to keep the names secret makes it even more intriguing.