Legal Aid (Part 2)

Legal Aid

Legal Aid is provided for Legal Aid Act Chapter 7:16 through the establishment of the Legal Aid Directorate. The Directorate is a public service provided by the government to help financially disadvantaged people with legal services when they cannot afford to pay. Not everybody who pleads poverty qualifies for legal aid assistance and the Act sets out the qualification criteria. It is the Directorate’s prerogative to decide who qualifies for legal aid assistance. Legal Aid can be granted for both civil and criminal matters. Judicial officers sometimes recommend indigent litigants to seek legal aid so it is advised to attend at Directorate offices where they are available. More information is available from Clerks of Court.

Legal Aid Societies

Legal Aid is not the same as Legal Aid Societies so the two are not to be confused. Legal Aid Societies are akin to Medical Aid Societies in their functioning. Members subscribe by paying monthly fees which they can claim to pay on their behalf when they engage legal services.

Are Legal Aid Societies legal in Zimbabwe?

It cannot be said that they are illegal. However they are not regulated by the Law Society and it cannot vouch for their credibility. It is also not answerable in instances where members of such schemes allege being short changed. If the Law Society does not regulate them it leaves the Insurance Council of Zimbabwe because they are a type of insurance. It is advisable to check with the Insurance Council before transacting with any legal aid society. It is still a rather grey area in Zimbabwe but some lawyers do work with then and accept this method of payment. It is best to first verify their authenticity and enquire fully about the paying out of claims and benefits and to know the available recourse in the event of a dispute. As a rule lawyers themselves are strictly forbidden from operating such schemes even as side businesses.

The traditionally recommended way to pay lawyer’s fees.

Clients ordinarily pay a deposit at the start of their case. They pay a consultation fee at the initial meeting and this is supposed to be on a no obligation basis. This is so that both parties discuss the matter to see if it has enough merit to proceed. The lawyer also decides if they can work on it because they might be inexperienced or be conflicted for one of many reasons. In turn a client might decide not to pursue the matter further after the consultation or may decide to engage another lawyer or firm also for one of many reasons. The negotiable deposit is only paid into the lawyer’s Trust Account if the matter is to proceed. While in the Trust Account the money at all times belongs to the client. The lawyer is only entitled to it when they work and draw a bill of attendances. Even if the matter inactive it is not illegal to keep the deposit in the lawyer’s trust account. The money can be claimed back it is not used. The lawyer will bill for their attendances and time incurred on the matter and keep what is due to them and return the unused portion. What is illegal is to just pay the lawyer blindly and continuously in anticipation of a legal matter that has not yet arisen or may never arise. There is nothing wrong with paying towards building up your deposit but only for an actual existing matter even if it may be dormant.

Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She writes in her personal capacity and can be contacted on enquiries@legalpractitioners.org