BY BLESSED MHLANGA
THE cost of accessing justice has shot through the roof, pushing the service out of reach for the majority of the country’s impoverished populace after the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) approved sharp tariff increases in line with the depreciated real time gross settlement (RTGS) dollar, now regarded as the official base currency.
Fees for an uncontested divorce cases shot from $1 500 to $3 600, reflecting a more than 100% increase, a figure beyond the reach for many Zimbabweans currently earning salaries below $500 a month.
Law lecturer and human rights defender Valentine Mutatu, however, said while this appeared like a massive increase in legal fees, they remained lower in United States dollar terms.
“You will notice that for senior lawyers, they used to charge US$300 (per hour) and the latest tariff shows they can now charge RTGS$1 200. If you change that at the prevailing black market rate of today, which is around $420 for a US$$100 bill, it’s slightly lower than what we used to charge,” he said.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said it acknowledged that the new tariffs segregated the marginalised from accessing justice.
“We are aware of that bridge, that is why as ZLHR we conduct legal clinics, where we bring lawyers to the marginalised and services are offered for free. We will continue to do this in an effort to bridge the gap,” ZLHR said.
LSZ, in its statement adjusting the legal fees, said lawyers were obliged to charge in line with the tariffs.
“Legal practitioners are professionally and legally obliged to charge fees for legal work which are fair and reasonable in all circumstances,” the notice read.
“In order to assist the profession and the public in this regard and to seek a degree of uniformity and consistency, this tariff is recommended by the LSZ.”