Govt buckles to lawyers demands, exempts lawyers from national lockdown restrictions

HEALTH and Child Care Minister Constantino Chiwenga on Friday 8 January 2021 buckled to a protest by lawyers and immediately designated legal practitioners as essential service providers, who are exempt from national lo`ckdown restrictions imposed by government last week to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Constantino Chiwenga. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

Chiwenga on Friday 8 January 2021 issued Statutory Instrument 13 of
2021, which was published in a supplement to the Government Gazette
wherein he amended the Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment
and Treatment) (National Lockdown) (No. 2) Order, 2020 to include
lawyers among service providers and professionals considered
essential.

The Health and Child Care Minister said legal practitioners should be
allowed to attend at any court and travel to and from any other place
for purposes of fulfilling their professional duties.

The designation of lawyers as essential service came after human
rights lawyer Obey Shava and Young Lawyers Association of Zimbabwe
(YLAZ) represented by Tonderai Bhatasara of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human
Rights on Wednesday 6 January 2021 filed an urgent chamber application
at the High Court seeking an order to compel government to urgently
place them on the list of essential service personnel to allow them to
offer legal assistance to those in need during the subsistence of the
national lockdown period.

Chiwenga had on Saturday 2 January 2021 announced the imposition of a
national lockdown which took effect from Tuesday 5 January 2021 and
will last for 30 days and authorised some selected essential services
and providers to remain open and operational and ordered all
non-essential enterprises and service providers to shut down and stay
at home.

Through issuance of Statutory Instrument (SI) 10 of 2021, Chiwenga had
omitted lawyers from a list of essential service workers considered
essential service providers.

This compelled Shava and YLAZ to protest against Chiwenga’s decision
in their petition filed at High Court, where they argued that the
Health and Child Care Minister’s oversight had serious ramifications
for access to justice by people in need of such a service.

In their urgent chamber application, Shava and YLAZ narrated their
ordeals at the hands of some law enforcement officers, who were
manning roadblocks and check points and who turned back lawyers who
were on their way to work on Tuesday 5 January 2021 after they
allegedly failed to produce “authority to travel letters.”

Shava and YLAZ, who listed Chiwenga, Home Affairs and Cultural
Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe and Justice, Legal and Parliamentary
Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi as respondents in their application,
protested that government’s conduct in not recognising lawyers as part
of professionals considered essential service providers or workers is
a violation of lawyers’ rights as well as litigants and arrested
persons provided in section 50, 64, 66, 69 and 70 of the Constitution.

Lawyers, Shava and YLAZ contented, are essential in completing the
chain of the justice delivery system and the rights of accused persons
to access lawyers of their choice as provided in the Constitution
would be undermined by government’s decision to treat legal
practitioners as non-essential service providers.

Apart from demanding that lawyers be treated as people carrying out
essential services, Shava and YLAZ also want Chiwenga’s conduct or
omission by not including legal services as essential services in SI
10/2021 and 11/2021 to be declared unconstitutional.

The matter is yet to be set down for hearing at High Court.

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