Free lawyers for murder suspects

Source: Free lawyers for murder suspects | Sunday News (local news)

Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
THE Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) is offering free legal assistance covering bail application, trial and appeals for murder suspects.

LSZ corporate communications manager Mr Richard Chidza said pro-deo services are ordinarily funded by the Government but due to maybe financial constraints that had stopped.

“The pro-deo project is run by the Law Society of Zimbabwe and funded by the European Union under their access to justice programme.
“It has been running for some time with the LSZ basically paying disbursements for costs incurred by legal practitioners in undertaking pro-deo work. Previously the Government was responsible but along the way they stopped disbursing fees to lawyers who would have undertaken pro-deo work. The LSZ has come in to alleviate the plight of legal practitioners,” he said.

Pro deo is representation of a person where legal costs are paid by the State at the instruction of the courts. Mr Chidza said the programme is there to meet pro-deo expenses but the LSZ still believes legal practitioners should be compensated for the services they offer to citizens facing murder charges.

“Pro-deo work is structured differently from pro-bono where the latter is a situation in which a lawyer on their own initiative decides to represent an indigent client and there are no legal fees charged. With the pro-deo project, we are extending the provision of legal services to cover bail applications.

“In the traditional pro-deo system, the lawyer is only called at trial and this means they will have not had the opportunity to understand the case or assist the client. Maybe the accused have been languishing in prison for years when they would have been a good candidate for bail.

“We are of the view that Zimbabwe should have a legal aid scheme that covers everyone who runs foul of the law, but economics tells us that we channel resources where there is greatest need and hence our decision. As long as one is facing a murder charge, they automatically qualify to be represented pro-deo.”

Mr Chidza said those that need this legal assistance have to get in touch with the Law Society of Zimbabwe and they will then take it up with the Registrar of the High Court. According to the LSZ, the decision to provide legal assistance to murder suspects was taken in light of the fact that the death penalty remains on Zimbabwe’s statutes despite the fact that no one has been hanged for over a decade now.

“The death penalty remains on our books and the penalty for this without extenuating circumstances is the death penalty. If we can assist in reducing the number of people convicted, increase the numbers of those admitted to bail or help argue for lesser charges such as culpable homicide, this would have been a victory in the quest to increase access to justice in Zimbabwe,” he said.

President Mnangagwa is a long-standing advocate of the removal of the death penalty in Zimbabwe.-@NyembeziMu

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