The government has raised concern over a surprise stance taken by the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) to “posture and defend” some of its members who could be mired in corruption even before due process takes its course.
In a letter to LSZ executive secretary Mr Edward Mapara, a copy of which was seen by The Herald, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Mr Nick Mangwana said, like any member of society, lawyers should also be subjected to scrutiny, which is a common process among citizens that does not amount to victimization.
This comes after seemingly innocuous comments Mr Mangwana made on micro-blogging site Twitter, that the country has “a coterie of very corrupt lawyers who buy out investigating officers, prosecutors, magistrates and judges”, triggered a defensive response from the LSZ.
In a letter to Mr Mangwana, Mr Mapara said they would want to discipline their own members if they are involved in corruption.
“The Law Society of Zimbabwe regulates the conduct of legal practitioners and is keen to discipline any of its members who might be involved in corrupt dealings. Your tweet was clear, you are speaking based on facts. We therefore, call upon you to kindly share with us the evidence that you have against our members to enable us to undertake our own investigations,” read the letter written by Mr Mapara in part.
But in response to the Law Society letter, the Permanent Secretary said he would not avail any evidence of impropriety among lawyers to the LSZ of Zimbabwe “because of the criminal nature of those allegations” that are being handled by the relevant cogs of the country’s justice delivery system.
And unfazed by attempts by the LSZ to insulate its members from public scrutiny, Mr Mangwana said the long arm of the law does not respect “egos” or societal stations of people who dabble in the vile vice.
“I found your letter quite defensive. Corruption is a societal problem of which the legal profession is not immune. In fact, the legal profession has its own rotten apples in its midst hence the use of the term “coterie” in my tweet. The Law Society should also not try to insulate itself from fair commentary on corruption and malfeasance does not wait for a conviction to be uttered.
“Your letter has a tone which seems to advocate for impunity within the legal fraternity, a notion I find objectionable,” said Mr Mangwana.
Although Mr Mangwana did not mention any lawyer in his microblog, the LSZ appeared to suggest in its letter to him that he did not observe the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.
However, Mr Mangwana said he did not specify any individual but just made a comment on the pervasiveness of corruption in the legal profession.
“May I point out that in this case there is no particular lawyer that was cited in my microblog. Therefore, the principle of innocent until proven guilty is not applicable to a whole profession, but to an individual.
“We cannot say, for example, nobody should accuse politicians of being corrupt until they have so proved. While legal practitioners are officers of court, they are also human beings with the same flaws of avarice and corruption like everybody else regardless of profession,” said Mr Mangwana.
With the Government on a mission to stamp out corruption by arresting those involved, regardless of their societal station, Mr Mangwana said the anti-graft crusade will reach all corners of society, including investigating members of the law profession who might be involved in questionable deals that compromise the justice delivery system.
“If lawyers are suspected of criminal impropriety they will be subjected to investigations and arrests like any other member of society. In fact, their moral responsibility, therefore blameworthiness is expected to be much higher than those who are not in the legal profession.
May I suggest that the Law Society stops posturing and allow due process to take place.
“May I take this opportunity to assure you that I am quite aware of the weight that my words carry because of the office I sit in.
“I, therefore, don’t take lightly any commentary I make, it is in this context that I believe the public interest in the fight against corruption trumps any bruised ego of a professional body which is inclined to ring-fence itself from fair criticism,” said Mr Mangwana.
President Mnangagwa has repeatedly raised his concerns over the extent to which corruption is embedded in the country, including in institutions that are supposed to flush out the vice.
The Second Republic has made uprooting corruption one of its key missions.
To speed up the fight against the vice, the New Dispensation has toothed the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) with arresting powers.
Apart from that, President Mnangagwa has also established a Special Anti-Corruption Unit that is housed in the Office of the President and Cabinet, and is meant to improve efficiency in the fight against all forms of graft and to strengthen the effectiveness of national mechanisms for the prevention of corruption.
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