Lawyers Barred From Operating During Lockdown, Sue Chiwenga

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By Staff Reporter

ZIMBABWEAN lawyers Wednesday filed an urgent chamber application at the High Court seeking to compel government to exempt legal services from a ban imposed on non-essential services during the current national lockdown to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

Government recently announced a 30-day national lockdown starting this past Tuesday.

Under the measures, only essential services were not affected while both formal and informal businesses regarded as non-essential remain stagnant.

But Obey Shava, a legal practitioner and the Young Lawyers Association of Zimbabwe (YLAZ), the applicants, argue that section 27A (g) introduced by SI 10 of 2021 restricts law firms or those offering legal services from performing their duties during the period.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights practitioner Tonderai Bhatasara is representing them.

They want the court to stop police from enforcing the contents of their press statements issued on Monday to demand exemption letters from essential service workers.

They said police’s request was unlawful and unconstitutional as it infringed the legal practitioners’ constitutional right to freedom of movement and the right to and freedom of profession, trade or occupation.

This, they said, was in conflict with the Practice Direction 1 of 2021 issued by the Chief Justice Luke Malaba on how courts are to operate during lockdown.

In the application, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who doubles as health minister was cited as first respondent while Home Affairs and Justice Ministers Kazembe Kazembe and Ziyambi Ziyambi were cited as second and third respondents respectively.

According to papers filed at the High Court, Shava and YLAZ, represented by Billiard Mwatura, a committee member, are arguing that police were violating their rights by demanding travel letters and barring them from performing their work.

“We seek that the ZRP statements of 04 January 2021 and its enforcement be and are hereby declared unconstitutional and a contravention of the rights of applicants, litigants, arrested and accused persons in section 50, 64, 66, 69 and 70 of the Constitution and are consequently set aside,” reads the application.

“Alternatively, the conduct or omission by first respondent not to include legal services as essential services in SI 10 of 2021 and 11 of 2021 be and is hereby declared unconstitutional.”

They stated that on Tuesday. police operatives who were manning roadblocks and enforcing the lockdown regulations turned away some lawyers who were on their way to work for failing to produce “authority to travel letters”.

The law enforcement officers were purporting to be enforcing the statutory instruments and contents of the police press statement of January 4, 2021.

“The services by lawyers are an integral part and an essential component in the national economy ecosystem, the justice delivery system including law and order. It’s critical in a democratic society. That is why lawyers are officers of the court,” they said.

They also said that the application was urgent as officers were already using the contents of their press statements which they created “illegally to stop applicants and other ordinary citizens from enjoying their right to freedom of movement and other freedoms as provided for in the constitution”.