GOVERNMENT has set in motion plans to extend free legal representation to those who cannot afford such services as part of efforts to deepen access to justice for the citizenry.

The Sunday Mail understands that the Legal Aid Directorate in the Ministry ofJustice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has been expanded beyond Harare and Bulawayo with new stations having been opened in four other cities.

Plans are afoot to open new stations in all provincial capitals and eventually at district level by year end. Legal aid refers to the provision of legal services and representation in court or before an administrative tribunal to per-sons unable to pay for a lawyer.

According to the National Constitution Section 7o (1)(e), “Any person accused of an offence has the following rights – to be represented by a legal practitioner assigned by the State and at the State expense, if substantial injustice would otherwise result.”

Minister ofJustice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told The Sunday Mail recently that expansion of the legal aid programme was part of Government’s efforts to strengthen the justice delivery system.

He said: “We have the legal aid directorate which assists indigents to get legal advice and representation. “And we have expanded it, initially we only had Harare and Bulawayo, but we have expanded it to Chinhoyi, Mutare, Gweru and Masvingo.

“We are planning to expand it to all provincial capitals, then we go lower to the districts. “In terms of access to justice for those indigent people who cannot afford a lawyer, they should be provided one by the State.

“The law states that where substantial injustice may happen, State should provide legal assistance to the indigent so that justice is done. The Legal Aid Directorate is structured along the lines of the social welfare programme which provides assistance to the underprivileged. The State will provide legal representation for both criminal and civil cases and any quasi-judicial tribunals.

Legal advice provided will include cases of labour disputes, matrimony, deceased estates, general civil matters and criminal issues.

In South Africa, the Legal Aid Department provides State funded lawyers to anyone who earns less than R5 500 per month after tax, while in criminal cases, children automatically qualify for legal aid.Zimpapers