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  • Index of articles on the mistreatment of the legal profession in Zimbabwe

  • Statement following the arrest of two lawyers
    Legal Resources Foundation (LRF)
    May 11, 2007

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    The Trustees of the Legal Resources Foundation are deeply concerned by the arrest on Friday 4 May of two lawyers in Harare who had gone to the High Court in pursuance of their clients' cases. Our deep concern stems from the following:

    The arrest
    In terms of section 8 of the Legal Practitioners Act [Chapter 27:07] legal practitioners are entitled to represent their clients without fear of harassment from law enforcement agents. Whilst section 13 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe allows the police to effect an arrest upon reasonable suspicion that one has committed or is about to commit an offence, it is impossible to see how the two lawyers could have been reasonably suspected of committing an offence when they were merely representing their clients. There is no way the Police could be said to have been acting lawfully or in good faith.

    Denial of access to a legal representative
    Section 13(3) of the Constitution states that once a person has been arrested and detained they shall be permitted, without delay, to obtain and instruct a legal representative of their choice and communicate with him/her. By denying the two arrested lawyers access to their legal representatives the Police were acting in direct contravention of the Constitution.

    Disregard of court orders
    In an effort to secure the release of the two lawyers, two applications for their release were granted by the High Court. The detention was declared unlawful and the Police were ordered to release the two lawyers. The orders were served on the Police, on 5 May and the second on 6 May. These orders were ignored and the lawyers remained in detention until 7 May. This shows the police's deplorable disregard for the Judiciary and thus for the rule of law.

    This reprehensible and unlawful conduct by the Police resulted in the lawyers spending three nights in detention. They were finally taken to court on Monday 7 May, charged with "obstructing the course of justice", a patently spurious charge. They have since been placed on remand and granted bail of $500 000, despite the High Court orders for their release. It is shocking that the magistrates' court found the facts as presented by the police justification for putting the lawyers on remand.

    Arrest of state counsel
    To compound this sad turn of events, the state counsel who consented to the granting of the High Court order on 5 May was arrested and allegedly assaulted by the Police. He went through this harrowing experience lawfully performing his duties. If this is not a breakdown of the rule of law, we do not know what is. The impunity with which the Police have continued to behave in this and similar previous incidents involving civic society leaders has frightening implications. Both the state counsel and the Judges who granted the court orders have been humiliated. A Judiciary which is insulted in this way can no longer guarantee the rights of the people.

    Police attack on lawyers
    In a show of solidarity with their counterparts, the Law Society of Zimbabwe called a protest march on Tuesday 8 May. The march was to culminate in the handing over of a petition to the Minister of Justice. Lawyers gathering at the High Court were met with a hostile reception by Police, riot police and army personnel. A senior police officer proceeded to declare the gathering unlawful and ordered the lawyers to disperse but before they had time to do so the lawyers were attacked with batons and at least six were severely beaten.

    The Trustees of the Legal Resources Foundation unreservedly condemn such high handedness on the part of the Police. In a country where the rule of law applies, the Police, and any other Government agency will obey court orders without question. Where court orders are ignored or disobeyed with impunity, then there can be no doubt that the rule of law has been abandoned. Is this the image of Zimbabwe that the Government wants to portray to the rest of the world or are rogue elements of the Police acting on their own?

    It is deeply regrettable that the Minister of Justice, the Chief Justice, the Judge-President and the Attorney-General have remained silent in the face of this invidious assault on the rule of law. Their silence states loudly that our Justice system can no longer deliver and that no one in Zimbabwe is guaranteed the protection of the law.

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