Legal aid is not readily available in Zimbabwe and the LRF’s legal services offer relief to the indigent, regardless of gender, political orientation or cultural beliefs, enabling clients to access justice that otherwise would be beyond their reach. The law is complex and people need assistance and advice if they are to access the formal justice system. The LRF, through its permanent offices, mobile legal aid clinics and help desks at magistrates’ courts, most of which are located away from the main cities, provides legal assistance to the marginalised and vulnerable.
The LRF does not have the human resources capacity to appear in court for all its clients but uses its expertise to prepare court papers for the client to use as a self-actor. They are thus empowered to present their case with confidence and obtain judgments in their favour.
Over the past 12 months 6,650 people came to the LRF to seek legal assistance. Sixty one percent of the clients were women and people living outside the metropolitan areas brought 51% of cases handled.
A total of 5,704 cases were resolved. 2,852 went to court as self-actors and 2,005 had their cases resolved satisfactorily within the year.
Taking the law to the people, LRF Mutare Lawyer Christine Sungayi advises
a client at a mobile legal aid clinic
On 19 September 2016, the LRF attended the official opening of Murambinda court under the theme “Access to justice – Your Help Desk” where Deborah Barron, the National Director, gave a speech outlining the predicament self-actors find themselves in and how help desks could address the challenges. On the same day a Memorandum of Agreement was formally signed between the Judicial Service Commission and the five help desk partners: the LRF, Justice for Children, Women and Law in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association. The LRF is taking the leading role in coordinating the Help Desk initiative and in the succeeding months the partners have provided legal assistance to self-actors at 23 courts around the country, reaching on average over 1,100 people per month.
Deborah Barron, National Director, signing the MOU with the JSC
The case of the mentally challenged man
The LRF assisted a 22-year-old young man by facilitating the expeditious examination of his mental capacity. The young man was mentally challenged and faced rape charges made against him. He was remanded in custody to allow for medical examination but there were delays in getting him examined, prompting the accused’s mother to seek the LRF’s assistance. The LRF visited the accused at Whawha prison that same day but, due to his mental condition, ended up taking instructions from the mother. On three occasions the ZPCS medical team promised to fast track the medical examination of the accused but nothing materialised. The LRF Gweru lawyer contacted the psychiatric nurse for Whawha Prison and insisted that it was in the interests of justice that such examination be carried out. LRF efforts yielded results as the medical reports were produced in one day whereas the majority of mentally challenged people take over 6 weeks to be examined, mainly due to lack of legal representation. Within one month of the matter coming to the LRF, the consent of the provincial public prosecutor was given to have the charges withdrawn before plea on the basis that accused was mentally incapacitated and could not go through a trial.
Orphans denied birth certificates
The LRF assisted two orphaned children who were not able to enrol in school. They were failing to obtain birth certificates because their maternal grandmother was refusing to give them their mother’s death certificate. The LRF wrote a formal letter to the grandmother advising her to cooperate for the best interests of the children at which stage she visited LRF offices and agreed to bring the death certificate. The children then obtained their national documents from the Registrar’s office and subsequently enrolled in school.
The spot fines case
LRF represented Sharon Moffat of the LRF and Claudio M who had had their motor vehicles impounded by the police for failure to pay spot fines. There is no law in Zimbabwe, which empowers the police to impound people’s vehicles if they fail to pay a spot fine. At the hearing of the matter, the police representative produced a docket in which Sharon Moffat was now being accused of committing three road traffic offences, in an attempt to mislead the court as to what had transpired on the day of the impounding. He also produced a vehicle inspection report in which the LRF vehicle was deemed to be un-roadworthy. The inspection however, had been done after the police had been served with the court application. The presiding Judge dismissed the vehicle inspection report and indicated that it was unlawful for the police to compel people to pay spot fines through impounding of their motor vehicles. This case set a precedent that all Zimbabwean citizens can rely on as most were victims of law violations by the ZRP.
The case of children who were denied the right to education
A High School Head Teacher had denied a Form Two child the opportunity to write end of year examinations in 2016 because the child’s father owed school fees to the sum of $240. The LRF wrote to the Ministry of Education and copied the Head Teacher, stating that excluding a child from school because his parents owed money was a violation of the child’s right to education. The child was immediately called back to school and allowed to sit for the examination. A further 25 children in similar circumstances were also allowed to write their end of year examinations. The School Development Committee Chairperson advised LRF: “We acted out of ignorance. May you invite TC’s parents to this office so we can discuss our differences? LRF, we are happy to inform you that Trymore and 25 other children are going to write their examinations.”