THE Lusaka High Court has castigated private lawyers on Government payroll for failing to ably represent their clients despite getting paid for legal aid through the Legal Aid Board.
High Court Justice Mubanga Kondolo said the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) must look into the operations of some private law firms whose lawyers were in the habit of absconding court sessions and yet were being paid by Government to represent accused persons appearing under the Legal Aid Board.
Justice Kondolo said many cases had gone unheard for years yet private lawyers were being paid without representing their clients.
Judge Kondolo in the case he was handling in which the lawyers who were representing the accused had not been to the court since April last year.
Justice Kondolo made the statement yesterday at the Lusaka High Court when a case called up before him could not take off because the defense lawyers from a known private law firm were not in court, the second time this month alone.
“Legal Counsel, I would like to know what happens to legal fees of suspects represented by private lawyers who do not turn up to court. Are they still getting paid by the Legal Aid Board? I would like to understand the criteria used in paying these legal fees at the Legal Aid Board. Even the Law Association of Zambia must say something about law
yers failing to represent their clients, because we have so many cases unheard because legal counsel has failed to show up for the hearing,” Justice Kondolo said.
He explained that it was not the first time that lawyers from private law firms were absconding court sessions in which they were representing accused who could not afford legal fees.
He said the Legal Aid Board must ensure its clients received the necessary legal services they (Board) paid for to private firms, some of whom have failed to provide satisfactory representation in the courts.
“These lawyers are paid by Legal Aid, isn’t it? I would like to understand what principle they were paid because how can you represent a client and not show up at court hearing? Does the counsel come to see you at prison? When last did you see your lawyer? When did he come to visit you?” Judge Kondolo asked to which the accused responded that the last time he saw his defense lawyer was in April, 2014.
Justice Kondolo was incensed with the continuous absence of some lawyers from court despite being informed prior to the date of hearing, and ordered that the mentioned lawyers appeared before him before the end of the Tuesday September 22.
He said both Legal Aid Board and LAZ must hear of his sentiments and called on the director of Legal Affairs at the National rosecution Authority to ensure private lawyers representing the Legal Aid Board delivered the services to their clients without unnecessary delays and prolonging of matters due to their absence.
He said many cases have remained unresolved over long periods despite the lawyers getting their dues through the Legal Board and some suspects spending long periods up to one year in remand prison due to the nonattendance of their legal counsel.
He said there must be an explanation to the courts why some private law firms have been allowed to abscond court at the expense of their clients especially under Legal Aid.
He was speaking in Court yesterday when a matter could not be heard because defense counsel was not in court, the second time in September alone.
By press time, the lawyer firm the private firm had not yet responded to the Judge’s call as court session was still in progress.