Paying expensive lawyers for unimportant crimes

FREEDOM and dignity are crucial in people’s lives as evidenced by their sacrifices to part away with their hard-earned cash by seeking lawyers’ assistance when they are brought before the court facing criminal charges.

While most of the cases are petty, we have witnessed those accused hiring high-profile lawyers to defend themselves.
The case of the reigning Black Opal Face of Zimbabwe second princess, Mercy Kamanura who is accused of stealing a jumpsuit from Edgars Stores, is a good example of petty cases that in the end prove costly.

According to court documents, the jumpsuit costs a mere $40, which she could have easily paid for. Kamanura is denying the allegations.

However, she is now being forced to pay several amounts of dollars to her legal practitioner to save herself the embarrassment of being branded a thief. The $40 can easily translate to figures above $1 000 or more.

In Kamanura’s case, the idea is that of protecting her image more than the jail term, which is substantially shorter as compared to serious cases, in the event that she gets convicted.
There are also certain cases where people seek legal assistance to ensure that they do not go to prison as opposed to protecting their image.

Such cases are the ones that involve serious crimes like murder, armed robbery, rape or fraud relating to large sums of money.
In most of these serious crimes, the jail term is usually long. Because of the hard jail life people often opt to part away with their hard-earned cash by paying for lawyers’ services to secure their freedom.

According to lawyers who spoke to the Weekend Post on condition of anonymity, legal practitioners charged fees according to tariffs that were gazetted by the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ), but that does not come on a silver platter.
“Lawyers charge their fees on an hourly basis. This is also determined by the seniority of the legal practitioner, with leeway being provided to use premiums when the case is complex, require specialised knowledge or when the amount or value of the money or property involved is particularly high. Lawyers also have leeway to agree with their clients on the fees to be charged, as long as they are within the confines of the LSZ’s prescribed rates,” one prominent Harare lawyer said.

Another lawyer said that some charges were experience-based.
“The charges vary from one lawyer to the other depending on the experience of the lawyer. The purpose of the tariff is to get rid of unethical prices whereby some lawyers undercharge in order to attract business,” the lawyer said.

According to the LSZ; “Legal practitioners are professionally and legally obliged to charge fees for legal work which are fair and reasonable in all the circumstances.

“In order to assist the profession and the public in this regard and to seek a degree of uniformity and consistency, this tariff is recommended by the Council of the Law Society of Zimbabwe for application to all legal work undertaken by legal practitioners, save where some other tariff is applied by law or where the client has agreed to some other rate or basis of charging.”

However, the organisation’s tariff schedule shows that, party fees in civil litigation, conveyancing fees, collection commissions and deceased estate administration fees are not covered under its guidelines.

According to LSZ’s rates, those with over 30 years of experience are allowed to charge a maximum fee of between $200 and $350 per hour. The charges continue dwindling with the number of years that one has been in the profession, with 30 years and above being the maximum period that calls for high fees.
For those that have between 10 and 14 years of practice, they have to charge an hourly figure of between $125 and $210.
Those that are fresh from college, with only one year experience charge between $50 and $75, while unregistered law graduates, who are however, recorded by LSZ, can charge between $30 and $60.

Now putting these figures into perspective would show that lawyers do not come cheap, with a mere accusation having the capacity to land anyone in court.

Criminal and civil trials take time to be completed, with some dragging for months, or even several years. This means that suspects and defendants fork out thousands of dollars to defend their innocence.

Several people have been dragged to court on petty issues, some fabricated, while some are genuine. During the litigation process, several expenses are involved, outside the normal legal fees.

Some of the expenses involved include payments for the sheriff or messenger of court, photocopying of documents, telephone calls, faxing of documents, transport and collection commission.—Tendai Kamhungira

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