By Simbarashe Sithole
The European Union (EU) has challenged Zimbabwe to step up efforts to remove barriers in accessing justice for everyone regardless social status.
Speaking at the launch of the Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University (ZEGU)’s legal aid clinic in Bindura on Thursday, EU ambassador to Zimbabwe Timo Olkkonen said the government should simplify legal information, court processes and tackle corruption so that it becomes a just system accessible to everyone.
“On the demand side, the EU is supporting different strategies that are aimed at providing access to justice for those in need, for example, a project with the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) to enable quality legal representation for indigent people facing capital offences, support the Justice ministry’s Legal Aid Directorate, which provides assistance in both civil and criminal cases to those in need, support to law-based civil society organisations who provide legal services to various groups of people such as women and children,” he said.
“Supporting chiefs and headmen’s courts to improve the delivery of customary justice in line with the Constitution, supporting the revival or establishment of university legal aid clinics, has brought us here today. The clinics are also being revived or established at other universities.”
Olkkonen said many people were facing difficulties in accessing legal representation due to economic challenges, hence, the legal aid at ZEGU would go a long way in mitigating the challenge.
“In these difficult economic conditions, more people than before are finding it difficult to afford legal representation. This, in turn, negatively impacts on the protection of their constitutional rights,” he said.
“The EU commends the university for being socially responsive to the community surrounding it, realising that on the one hand, you possess a resource in the form of energetic and enthusiastic law students and their lecturers and on the other, you are surrounded by a community in need of legal aid.”
ZEGU is partnering the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and EU to establish the Bindura legal clinic.
The EU, together with ICJ, also donated an office printer, laptops, office desks, chairs and stationery to the ZEGU legal aid clinic to enhance academic and clinical education in the faculty of law.
ZEGU vice-chancellor Sunungurai Dominica Mutanga said the opening of the clinic would help the community by providing affordable and free legal services.
“As we speak, the senior law student class has began an exercise that will see them provide legal advisory services, draft legal opinions and provide legal counselling to the community free of charge,” Mutanga said. The call by EU for accessibility of justice comes at a time when LSZ reportedly hiked legal fees recently.