By their nature, legal services can be expensive for a lot of people. There are many people who will not get access to legal services simply because they cannot afford them. This is where the State must step in and offer legal aid to those who cannot afford the costs of certain legal services/representation in court.
Everyone is equal before the law. Basic tenets of justice in every democratic state require that every person have the same access to the law. There’s always a controversial question as to whether the State has an obligation towards the poor. But in these days, legal aid is now regarded as an important aspect on access to justice.
Must a person not be granted protection by the law simply because of poverty? As human beings we must all enjoy the protection offered by the law irrespective of our standing in life. This is all predicated on the fundamental right of equality before the law.
As such, justice must not be restricted on account of failure to afford the cost of legal services. Poor people must not be condemned to injustice for the reason that they cannot afford the cost of legal services.
The basis for having legal aid is governed by the Legal Aid Act, 1996, which superseded the previous system where legal aid was divided into Civil Court legal aid and Criminal Court legal aid.
In the next article we shall look at the provisions of the Legal Aid Act, 1996 and provide an evaluation on whether it is the best system for providing legal aid in Zimbabwe.
But in any country, in any scenario, legal aid is something of a huge magnitude and must be handled well.