Exclusive: What is wrong with the Law Society of Zimbabwe?

by | Dec 21, 2021 | Crime & Courts, Local News | 0 comments

• Lawyer challenging the organisation`s regulatory monopoly speaks out

Hosia Mviringi

They say that there is no smoke without fire, or else it becomes a worldwide wonder as is the ‘smoke that thunders’ at the Mosi-Oa-Tunya in Western Zimbabwe.
The Law Society of Zimbabwe was established by an Act of Parliament in 1981 ostensibly to regulate the operations of legal practitioners in the country.
Since then, it has morphed into an all-powerful entity which plays a triple role as thee registrar of lawyers, regulator of the law practice and representative trade union for all legal practitioners in the country.
After exactly 40 years, one brave, yet soft spoken Advocate Joshua John Chirambwe, in his personal capacity, decided to challenge the Constitutional hegemony in the High Court of Zimbabwe.
But why after all these years, nobody in the legal fraternity saw the existence of conflict and a need to challenge the constitutional provision?
“Challenging the status quo has never been easy, but change has got to be occasioned by a human being. If human beings don’t act then change doesn’t happen.
These were the words of Advocate Chirambwe in an exclusive interview with Tategurutv.com
As registrar of lawyers, the LSZ is responsible for issuance of Practice Certificates to all qualified lawyers in the country.
This means that a lawyer may not get their Practicing Certificate merely because they fail to meet certain regulatory benchmarks as set by the same entity in its regulatory role.

Some of the duties of the Law Society as listed under the Mission statement include promoting the study of the law, control of admission of new members to the profession, controlling and managing the legal profession, contributing, undertaking or making recommendations on legal training, representing the profession and articulating its views on various issues among other functions.
In essence, the Law Society of Zimbabwe owns and runs all lawyers in Zimbabwe.
But is this a tenable situation, especially in these contemporary times when acceptable labour practice stipulates that all workers have the right to belong to a union of their choice?
In effect, the constitution provided for freedom of association and assembly, which regrettably is being infringed under the Act that establishes the Law Society of Zimbabwe.

“The Act also effectively makes the 2nd respondent the only trade body available to legal practitioners. Membership of a trade body carries with it the payment of membership fees.
While I did not opt out of being a member of the 2nd Respondent as envisaged under Section 52, the Act makes it impossible for that to have had any meaning, or for me to make that choice now and decide to no longer be a member,” he continued.
Chirambwe bemoaned the fact that an infringement on his right to freedom to choose a representative association or federation automatically infringes on and violates his right to a profession.
“My bone of contention is that the regulator cannot in any way force themselves on its membership to become their labour representative.
Members of a professional body are entitled to belong to a labour union or federation of their choice. This is where conflict arises,” said Advocate Chirambwe.
“The constitution clearly says that the right to belong to an association is also a right not to belong to certain associations, but in our case it is different as we only have one Law Society to belong to.
The honest truth is that I don’t believe that they are the right people to represent my interests. So I should have a right to choose rather than be tied down to an association by an Act of Parliament,” continued.
The application is challenging the constitutionality of the legal provisions that establishes and gives power to the Law Society of Zimbabwe.
Advocate Chirambwe is pushing for the breaking of the monopoly of the LSZ as it spans from training of lawyers, indicating and admitting them to the profession, regulating their activities and representing their interests as a labour union.
This, according to Chirambwe, amounts to hegemonic cultism of the Society from which one cannot quit once a member, yet which is open to manipulation by funding organisations.
One anomaly, noted Chirambwe, is that the funding of the Law Society of Zimbabwe is open, which means that various interest groups can bankroll the organisation and end up dictating its conduct.

“Section 74(2) and (3), on the fee that is due to the 2nd respondent in effect involves a blanket requirement that all legal practitioners subsidise activities and statements with which they may not agree.
This is particularly the case with statements and litigation that is not germane to regulation of legal practice but instead concerns political and ideological issues. The legal practitioner who does not agree with such statement or litigation is not only associated with it by mere virtue of being a member of the 2nd Respondent, but effectively pay for such statement or litigation through this Section 74(2) and (3) fee,” he said.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe has in the past been accused of fronting certain political interests given the influence of prominent political figures in its hierarchy.

The historicity of the organisation does very little to exonerate it from such accusations of dabbling into toxic partisan politics, which violates its membership’s right to choose to belong to a political party of their choice.
A date that comes to mind is January 29, 2019, only a week after the deadly protests that rocked the whole nation on January 14, 2019. MDC Alliance member Fadzai Mahere found herself entangled in a messy street protest by members of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, which of course turned out to be political.
Ms Mahere delivered a speech then, and handed over a petition to Chief Justice Malaba. The speech was a politically charged barrage which had nothing to do with representing interests of lawyers.

Is politics contaminating the Law Society of Zimbabwe?

Of course, a thin line separates Ms Mahere from her roles in the Law Society of Zimbabwe and her roles in the MDC Alliance.
Nothing much separates Mr Job Sikhala, Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa from their roles in the Law Society of Zimbabwe.
According to Advocate Chirambwe, such a protest did not have express blessings of the entire membership as some members did not even know the reason for demonstrating, which later came out to be political.

Some analysts have accused the Law Society of Zimbabwe of being a funding conduit of multiple organisations that include opposition parties and anti-State civic society organisations and individuals.