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Legal aid societies call for legislation
The Herald (Zimbabwe)
May 05, 2006

LEGAL aid societies yesterday urged the Government to come up with legislation that will regularise their operations considering that they deal with public funds.

Giving oral evidence before the parliamentary portfolio committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the legal aid societies said there had been a proliferation of societies because of increasing demand from members of the public who could not afford to hire a lawyer.

Mr Harold Machivenyika, an officer with Prime Legal Society, said the societiesí operations were based on transparency, accountability and reliability to financially assist members of the public when they have legal problems.

"The establishment of a legal framework by Government will guarantee that members of the public get appropriate services from contributions they make out of their hard-earned cash," he said.

He said the legal framework would also guarantee that members of the public get refunds in case of abuse of funds.

Chairman of the National Legal Aid Society Mr Victor Chimhawu said the legal aid society concept was still fairly new in Zimbabwean society and sometimes it was met with scepticism, resistance and hostility.

"These legal aid societies are an essential service that works just like medical aid societies," he said.

Legal aid societies operate by offering the public an opportunity to contribute to a common fund where they would be covered in the event of requiring legal representation.

Zimbabwe Legal Aid Society (ZimLAS) chief executive officer Mr Amos Jumbe said all legal aid societies should be registered to give confidence to members of the public in the way the societies operate.

Giving evidence before the same committee, members of the public who have benefited from the assistance of legal aid societies in the past said legal problems arose at any time and it was wise to be a member of one especially at this time when hiring a legal practitioner had become unaffordable.

Mr Winston Chigavazira said legal aid societies were helpful but they should be trustworthy as public funds were involved.

"They (legal aid societies) have helped a lot of people. Legal problems arise any time when one has no money to pay a lawyer," he said.

Another member of a legal aid society Mr James Munzvandi said he was helped by the society after being involved in a road accident.

"The costs of hiring a lawyer are very high. I urge Parliament to look into this issue because it helps a lot of people," said Mr Munzvandi.

Chairman of the 14-member committee, Makoni East Member of Parliament Cde Shadreck Chipanga said the committee would go through the presentations and come up with a report that would be tabled in Parliament.

"Discussions would also be made whether a Bill should be proposed in this direction.

"We are, however, concerned that organisations like yours that (handle) public money go on and on without anybody checking on them," said Cde Chipanga.

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