Opinion & Columnist

Independence: Phenomenal changes for legal profession

Fidelis Munyoro

Chief Court Reporter

Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 ushered a new era in all sectors of the economy, which had been predominantly white minority controlled, with little or no space for indigenous black people no matter their levels of education.

One such area that had to battle white supremacy was the legal profession and the judiciary, which have been undergoing a metamorphosis in the last 41 years.

 Making the changes in both the judiciary and legal profession was not easy stroll.

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Discrimination of blacks in accessing legal education and training, characterised the settler rule as only whites dominated the field. 

But the coming of Zimbabwe independence in 1980 cracked-open the doors that had been shut to blacks for time immemorial with a flight, predominantly of whites in the legal branches of the civil service­­­­­­—the constitutionally elected Government took sweeping measures to remedy the situation.

 One feature of this was the launch of crash courses, primarily taught mostly by academics in the Law Department of the University of Zimbabwe to specially conscripted students who would not have qualified for normal entry to the University. 

These were predestined to fill posts as prosecutors and magistrates in the magistrates’ courts and as presiding officers in the newly created public courts.

 And this year as we celebrate the country’s 41 years of independence, access to legal training has been enhanced by the opening of three more law schools  in addition to the UZ. 

Veteran lawyer Mr Obert Gutu said during the colonial era, the legal profession, just like many other professions, was racially stratified and there were very few black legal practitioners. 

“It was extremely difficult for blacks to start their own law firms or to even practise at the Bar as advocates, but the last 41 years have witnessed a phenomenal increase in the number of black legal practitioners in Zimbabwe,” said the firebrand lawyer. 

“Indeed, the vast majority of lawyers are now blacks. 

Similarly, the judiciary was predominantly white during the colonial era. In fact, there was no black judge in the country before independence.” 

Right now, said Mr Gutu, almost 99% of the judiciary is black while opportunities within the legal profession have opened up for historically disadvantaged people. 

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“We now have got at least three law schools in the country but before independence, there was only one law school and competition for enrolment was fierce,” he said.

“Be that as it may, there is need for continuous legal education even amongst more senior lawyers to ensure that quality is not only enhanced but that it is also maintained.”

 Midlands State University, Great Zimbabwe University both State universities born after independence are offering legal education and ZAOGA’s church-run ZEGU is also offering legal education and training.

 The country now boasts of a wider choice of lawyers as more practising lawyers and law firms are strewn all over the country.

 In addition, free Zimbabwe also removed the dichotomy between advocated and attorneys, hence more lawyers can access superior courts.

 Superior courts bench which used to be a preserve for the whites was indigenised at the height of the land reform after the Government realised that white judges were using their influence at the bench to thwart the move to correct the historical land imbalances.

 After independence the judiciary became independent and through the Judicial Service Commission and the enactment of the home-grown Constitution of Zimbabwe 2013, the country now has a stand-alone Constitutional Court

More court houses and magistrates have been established in the country’s 10 provinces bringing justice to the people and just a few years ago saw the decentralisation of the High Court.

HERALD

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