Minister of Justice Given Lubinda says the provision of legal aid services to the indigenous and other vulnerable groups in the country is the mandate of the government as enshrined in the constitution under article 18 of the bill of rights.
He said the article enshrines the right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.
Speaking during the launch of the Legal Aid Board Strategic Plan for 2019 held at Radisson Blu Hotel, Minister of Justice Given Lubinda said the strategic plan is an important milestone for the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Aid Board.
Mr Lubinda stated that the strategic plan is important because it provides a blueprint which will guide the implementation of legal aid activities for the benefit of the indigents and the vulnerable people of Zambia.
He observed that the development of the strategic plan went through a rigorous consultative process that involved all relevant stakeholders and will greatly help the smooth implementation of the plan by them.
The Minister thanked Cabinet Office through the Management Development Division for making sure that the process was consultative and created a great sense of ownership by the stakeholders.
“Based on principles of equality before the law and the presumption of innocence, the constitution provides for a number of guarantees necessary for the defense of anyone charged with a penal offence (article 18 in the bill of rights) as well as protection from discrimination (article 23 in the bill of rights) and protection from inhuman treatment (article 15 in the bill of rights),” he said.
He added that it is the duty of the government to ensure that the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity for everyone in the county by providing free legal aid to those who cannot access justice due to economic reasons and other factors.
“The legal aid board, created under the act of parliament, is mandated to provide this service in our country. The efficient and effective delivery of legal aid services will in turn enhance equal access to justice for the poor and vulnerable groups in Zambia, in line with Zambia’s National and International commitments,” said Mr Lubinda.
Mr Lubinda highlighted that government has made it mandatory for all paralegals to undergo rigorous training using an approved syllabus and manuals, at recognized learning institutions.
He explained that these learning institutions which include Universities and ZIALE will enable students acquire the necessary knowledge and skills required in the justice system.
“The provision of these paralegal services is supervised by the legal aid board through the legal services units, prison and police desks are have proved to be a very successful initiative to provide legal aid to indigents and even the community at large,” he said.
He added that paralegal services offered at units and desk points have helped to decongest correctional facilities as some cases are addressed at these points.
He further added that it is the wish of the government that these services, especially the legal services units are rolled out to all districts where their services are required the most because that can be one of the ways in which the policy will have a national character.
Mr Lubinda disclosed that currently the services offered by the units are only concentrated in Lusaka, Southern and Copperbelt provinces are complimented by the PLEED Project supported by the European Union and the Germany government.
“Let me state that the government is desirous to mitigate any challenges in the justice sector and to capacitate all justice sector institutions. To achieve this, the government is open and eager to continue working with cooperating partners in the justice sector,” said Mr Lubinda.
The Minister assured members of the Legal Aid Board and staff that the Ministry of Justice is committed to support them in delivering on its mandate in accordance with the strategic plan.
And Legal Aid Board Chairperson Mandy Manda thanked government through the Secretary to the Cabinet, the European Union and the Federal Republic of Germany under the Program for Legal Empowerment and Enhanced Justice Delivery (PLEED), for their support which has enabled the process of developing the strategic plan.
Ms Manda noted that the Legal Aid Board provides on average legal aid services to over 12,000 women and men, girls and boys on an annual basis through the support from the government of the republic of Zambia and International Cooperating Partners.
“The strategic plan being launched today, comes shortly after Progressive Developments in our legal framework, namely, the adoption of a National Legal Aid Policy in 2018 which inter alia, provides the framework for the provision of legal aid services in our country and has broadened the scope of legal aid to include Legal and Human Rights Information,” she added.
Ms Manda implored the government and stakeholders to take keen interest in the operations of the Board and consider strengthening their support to the Legal Aid Board to achieve access to justice for the poor, the vulnerable and marginalized, leaving no one behind.
Legal Aid Board (LAB) is a statutory body established by the Legal Aid Act Chapter 34 of the Laws of Zambia. The Legal Aid Board is mandated to provide legal aid services (criminal and civil) to persons whose means are inadequate in Zambia.