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Right of reply to Herald article of 12 June 2013
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
June 12
, 2013

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has noted the front-page article in The Herald edition of 12 June 2013 authored by Caesar Zvayi and entitled “MDC-T launches litigation crusade”. This article was published without adherence to basic journalistic standards and ethics that include the right of reply or comment by those organisations and individuals named in the story.

It is disappointing that such articles continue to be published in a new constitutional era that obliges institutions and individuals to promote national unity, peace and stability, and specifically obliges the media to refrain from incitement and hate speech, afford a right of reply, and promote diverse and dissenting opinions.

All Zimbabweans have a constitutionally protected right to consult with lawyers of their choice in order to exercise and protect their fundamental rights and freedoms, moreso where they believe such rights are under threat of violation. Clients must be able to do so in confidence, which is why lawyer-client privilege is protected under our laws. Publication of such communications is not only a breach of professional legal ethics, but is also a grave breach of the law, for which offenders can and must be prosecuted if law enforcement officers are not to be seen to be condoning illegalities.

Whilst we stand in defence of freedom of expression, freedom of the media and protection of media practitioners to carry out their work without undue hindrance, the breach of professional legal privilege is a crime that cannot go unpunished, as it has the potential to undermine not only access to effective legal remedies, but also the administration of justice at its very core. Such prosecution is also critical in order to stem the chilling effect such articles have on other potential litigants who will be too fearful to consult lawyers in the future, in case their legal issues are publicised in violation of such legal privilege. Such fear and self-censorship leads to further violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms.

It is not lost on us that this article is a continuation of the sustained and unrelenting attack against the legal profession in Zimbabwe.

As officers of the court, lawyers are protected under national and international laws, norms and standards to carry out their professional duties without attack and without being identified with their clients or their clients’ cause. Where they are consulted, it is indeed their duty to provide professional legal services, and they do not intentionally file “frivolous and vexatious” cases. Lawyers are a vital bridge between the people, the law, and the courts that are meant to protect them and ensure their rights are realised and protected. Any assault on lawyers is therefore an associated assault on the law and on the judiciary.

What is more dangerous in the article at hand is the blatant propagandistic attempt to interfere in serious litigation that is pending before the courts, and seeking to set the legal profession on a collision course with the judiciary. We have the greatest respect for the courts of Zimbabwe and remain certain that the bench will see through these facile attempts at inciting such divisions.

Litigation is the right of every Zimbabwean where they feel their rights have been, or are likely to be, violated. Lawyers have a duty to provide professional services to assist this process, starting with confidential consultations with their clients to take instructions in a safe environment where the legal privilege is protected. These rights and protections must be respected, failing which lawyers will be within their rights to take appropriate legal action, including lodging of criminal complaints, to ensure such intimidation, harassment and interference comes to an end and integrity is restored to our profession and the administration of justice.

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