The Human Rights Commission wishes to commend the Government for adopting the Legal Aid Bill as part of its efforts towards enhancing equal access to justice in line with the National Legal Aid Policy of 2018, the Seventh National Development Plan 2017-2021 and the National Vision 2030.
The Government’s decision and efforts to review the Legal Aid Act must be commended because this will allow many poor and vulnerable people who are unable to afford legal services to have access to justice. For the first time, paralegals will be recognized as a professional cadre that will work under the guardianship of qualified legal practitioners to contribute to the efficient and effective delivery of legal aid services at grass root level. This will make access to justice possible particularly for the poor and vulnerable people who have previously been excluded.
Access to justice is a fundamental human right which allows people to seek and obtain a remedy for human rights abuses or violations committed against them and enhances the enjoyment of other human rights including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
In the execution of its constitutional mandate, the Human Rights Commission has continued to receive and record a high number of complaints relating to the violation of secure protection of the rights guaranteed under Article 18 of the Constitution of Zambia, such as the right to a fair trial, the right to be informed of the charge as soon as reasonably practicable, the right to facilities to prepare for one's defence and the right to legal representation, among other rights.
Therefore, the review of the Legal Aid Act will help to reduce the violation of human rights as many people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, have access to legal representation and, in turn, benefit from the provisions of such services which may include securing police bond or bail as the case may be for the suspects facing bailable/bondable offences.
The Human Rights Commission is optimistic that the review of the Legal Aid Act will also go a long way in addressing the issue of overcrowded correctional facilities and police cells and the associated human rights violations arising from keeping suspects and other detainees in inhumane and deplorable conditions. The Legal Aid Bill places a mandatory requirement for the Police and Judicial Officers to inform a suspect or accused person of the availability of legal aid which will enhance their access to justice.
[The Human Rights Commission is a National Human Rights Institution established under Article 230 of the Zambian Constitution [Amendment] Act No. 2 of 2016 with an overall mandate of ensuring that the Bill of Rights is upheld and promoted]
PRINCIPAL INFORMATION OFFICER
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION