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Judging by international standards

By Lindie Whiz
Posted to the web: 14/10/2008 20:12:13
THE Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ), the representative body for lawyers, has announced its members are to charge for their services in foreign currency.

According to a revised general tariff of fees for legal practitioners with effect from September this year, the rates are fixed in US$ “but each legal practitioner shall be entitled to create a table or formula reflecting the applicable lawful equivalent of these rates in Zimbabwe dollars”.

This is to be done for ease of reference for clients and for use from time to time as the rates may change.

The notice states that the rates for standard fees for basic work will increase every month with effect from the 1st day of each and every succeeding month.

Property owners of residential stands or farms who approach lawyers for a sale agreement are expected to pay between US$720 and 1000 or two percent of the selling price whichever is greater.

For an uncontested divorce with or without a consent paper, with minimum negotiations including appearance in court, where necessary, the plaintiff will fork out between US$2 417 and US$3 625 while the defendant will pay between US$1 333 and US$2 000.

Having a simple will drafted attracts a fee of between US$750 and US$1 125 while a general Power of Attorney costs between US$180 and US$270.

Lawyers who have been in practice for 20 years and above are allowed to charge between US$354 and US$531 per hour while those who have been in practice for less than a year charge between US$130 and US$195.

The dollarization move by the LSZ has raised concern among some litigants and lawyers who fear they might find themselves without any clients.

Most lawyers interviewed said that from past experiences, the tariffs agreed and published by the LSZ have never been followed as legal practitioners work out feasible fees with clients that approach them.

The Zimbabwe government has allowed the use of foreign currency to pay for services provided in the country but most people cannot afford this, as they have no source of foreign currency.

Most litigants cannot afford legal fees -- a situation which has seen lawyers forming legal aid groups whose main object is to provide legal services to deserving cases of people who do not have the means to hire a lawyer.

Sikhumbuzo Nyathi, a Bulawayo provincial magistrate, recently handed down a judgement in a civil case directing that the respondents pay 205,060 South African rands together with interest at the prevailing bank lending rate calculated from June 30, 2008.

“In the event of failure by the judgement debtors to discharge the securities all parties are to agree on a registered valuator to valuate the properties, at the debtor’s costs, and convert the value to South African Rand at the prevailing parallel market rate,” ruled Nyathi.

The rapidly weakening Zimbabwe dollar, which has been battered by skyrocketing hyperinflation estimated at 231 million per cent – the highest in the world has become a less attractive currency for businesses in the country.

A directive by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, issued on September 9, has authorised some 1,200 retail and wholesale businesses to charge for their goods in US dollars, South African rands, and other hard currencies.

Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono – who is known for dramatic policy innovations – has provoked controversy with the introduction of these so-called Foreign Exchange Licensed Warehouses and Shops.

Gono said the initiative – which is being introduced for an initial period of 18 months – was a response to a request from the country's hard-pressed business community. He emphasised that the Zimbabwe dollar was still the official currency, and that this did not mean the economy had been officially dollarised.

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