By Leopold Munhende
SOUTH Africa’s first female judge and former United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay has questioned the ethical behaviour of lawyers who accept “dirty money” to defend in court, people arrested for corruption.
Pillay was addressing lawyers at the Zimbabwe Law Society annual Walter Kamba lecture and awards ceremony in Harare Friday.
However, Pillay told the legal fraternity that the public was questioning the integrity of some of their colleagues who represent in the courts, individuals accused of illicit financial activities, tax evasion and corruption.
Her call comes when Zimbabwe is recording a spike in high level corruption in government ministries, departments, parastatals and the corporate with well-knit cartels reported to be close to those in power behind the graft.
“The public is asking. Surely there should be ethical considerations that bind lawyers not to represent corrupt guys who steal from the public, hide the loot and avoid prosecution, especially when the lawyers know the true facts and must reasonably suspect guilt of their clients,” she said.
“Do they knowingly take the fruits of crime as their fee? Where do we draw the line that makes us complicit?” asked Pillay.
“Lawyers tend to shield themselves with clichés responses such as everyone is considered innocent, everyone has a right to legal defence. People are questioning whether lawyers should not be more accountable and this is evident in discussions going on in my country and also elsewhere.”
Added Pillay: “What a single lawyer does reflects on the whole profession. One of the best ways in my view in which we can honour the legacy of Walter Kamba is for lawyers to become active partners not outsiders but identify with the people in their struggle for peace, human rights and good governance.”
Several lawyers who are also mostly MDC officials have been questioned for their actions in representing former Zanu PF and government officials arrested over graft.
In 2013, former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor Gideon Gono hired MDC Vice President Tendai Biti to fight allegations that he was involved in corrupt dealings during his time at the apex bank.
Before the now defunct inclusive government, Biti used to describe Gono as an Al-qaeda terrorist who deserved to be put before a firing squad.
MDC deputy chair, Job Sikhala is representing exiled Cabinet minister Walter Mzembi, and Welshman Ncube, also an MDC Vice President is representing former State Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko. Mzembi and Mphoko are facing abuse of public office charges.
National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) President Lovemore Madhuku is the legal counsel for another former minister, Ignatius Chombo who is on bail facing corruption charges.
In 2018, top Harare lawyer and Zanu PF MP Jonathan Samkange had to dump his high-profile client, former Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, following pressure from Zanu PF.
Kasukuwere was facing charges of criminal abuse of office over land transactions that took place when he was still minister.
Last year, Zanu PF national commissar and Deputy Defence Minister, Victor Matemadanda questioned the decision by MDC politicians-cum-lawyers for representing graft accused people.
“At the moment, everyone who is accused of being corrupt in Zanu PF is being represented by an MDC lawyer, some who are MPs and one wonders what moral ground they have when they talk about corruption,” he said.