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Lawyers’ body under siege

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BY MOSES MATENGA/EVANS MATHANDA
THE Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ)’s existence as the country’s sole regulatory body for legal professionals is under threat after Harare lawyer Joshua Chirambwe yesterday challenged the status quo at the High Court, at a time when government is angling to have some control of the organisation.

Chirambwe’s application seeks to challenge the grouping’s sole regulatory function.

In his High Court application, Chirambwe said he was seeking a declaratory relief setting aside sections 58, 64 and 65(1) to (5) of the Legal Practitioners Act as invalid and in violation of the Constitution.

According to the Legal Practitioners Act, one has to be a member of the LSZ before they are registered by a High Court judge and allowed to practise as a lawyer.

Chirambwe argues this is unfair because the Constitution gives everyone the right to associate with organisations or groups of choice, adding that he did not want to be affiliated to the LSZ, which he accuses of sometimes pursuing political agendas.

“It (LSZ) has organised demonstrations on political issues having nothing to do with the practice of lawyers or professional regulation. It has made statements against government policies without checking if members such as myself agreed with those statements.”

LSZ, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and Attorney-General Prince Machaya were cited as respondents.

Government has often accused the LSZ of being funded by the West to effect regime change in the country.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba appeared to be celebrating the court challenge yesterday when he tweeted: “It is very interesting that priests of foreign-initiated reform agenda do not themselves want to be reformed.

“Whatever the merits or demerits of this application, whatever its fate in our court system, the issue is a key point about this group’s pretences to reform-mindedness.

“Something is brewing. I will be quiet as a law-abiding person.”

The LSZ has, however, vowed to oppose the application.

In a letter to its members dated December 8, the organisation’s executive secretary Edward Mapara said: “The LSZ would like to advise its membership that it has been served with an application in terms of which the applicant seeks the repeal of the current Legal Practitioners Act.

“The basis of the application is that according to the application, section 52 of the Act is unconstitutional. The applicant seeks an order which would create a separate regulator distinct and independent of the representative function.

“The LSZ council has resolved to oppose the application and is in the process of engaging counsel to prosecute our opposition to the application.”

Ziyambi was not picking calls yesterday, but the Justice minister recently threatened to railroad amendments to the Legal Practitioners Act to give the minister powers to appoint four councillors to the LSZ council, up from the present two.

In the proposed amendments, the Justice minister would also have power to approve or disapprove external funding raised by the LSZ “in the national interest”.

The threats came after LSZ criticised constitutional amendments which gave powers to the President to appoint the Attorney-General and judges without public interviews.

“The LSZ has lost its mandate. They have converted themselves into an activist lobby group,” Ziyambi said at the time, accusing the LSZ of pursuing Western political objectives through unwarranted criticism of national interests.

LSZ criticised the amendments approved by Cabinet as retrogressive and meant to control the legal body.

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