400 lawyers under investigation

Freeman Razemba Crime Reporter—
A third of lawyers practising in Zimbabwe are being investigated by the Law Society of Zimbabwe for various cases of fraud and corruption they committed last year. There were 1 240 registered lawyers last year, but almost 400 of them are under investigation, casting a pall on the profession for which honesty is a cardinal rule.

Last year, a number of lawyers were hauled to court on allegations of corruption and fraud.

Several were convicted.

Some law firms were closed for cheating the public.

LSZ president Mr Lloyd Mhishi said in a statement that most of the lawyers were being investigated for stealing from trust accounts.

Veteran lawyers yesterday said the statistics were shocking.

“This tells about the quality of lawyers,” said Mr Terrence Hussein of Hussein and Ranchhod.

“For too long the training has been based on achieving quantity at the expense of quality. It is not sufficient to simply have a degree, it must be completed with an appropriate time of practical exposure.”

Said Law lecturer Professor Lovemore Madhuku: “It is good that people make complaints, but these reports do not yield to the guilty part of lawyers. It shows that society has become alert.”

Mr Mhishi said complaints against lawyers included failure to effectively account for trust funds.

“I wish to emphasise the importance of maintaining proper books of accounts and that the trust account is sacrosanct,” he said.

“There are a high number of complaints on legal practitioners who accept instructions for small collections, successfully collect and end up billing much more than what they would have collected.

“Unfair labour practices at law firms continue to make a significant number of complaints. Members are reminded that failure to pay salaries and wages to staff members is an act of unprofessional conduct.”

Mr Mhishi said non-compliance with the prescribed tariff remained prevalent, especially in conveyancing.

He said LSZ had directed its secretariat to perform random spot checks on the basis of the Deeds Office’s register to check on compliance with the tariff.

“We have also witnessed lawyers being sued and having office furniture attached,” said Mr Mhishi. “This brings the name of the profession into disrepute and it is a prima facie act of misconduct.

“It is also a manifestation of insolvency and the fitness of one to continue to be in the register of legal practitioners is called into question.

“Quite a number of lawyers seem to be living beyond their means. Some members have accumulated personal debts which appear to be too high and they have failed to pay back. Some creditors have indicated that they will be applying for sequestration.”

Last year, Harare lawyer Simbarashe Tsaurai (30) was convicted of raiding a legal firm’s trust fund and stealing $35 000 deposited by clients and sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison, while Bulawayo lawyer Masimba Munjanja was slapped with a five-year jail term for stealing his client’s R30 000.

Another Harare lawyer Taurai Simbarashe was arrested on forgery and theft of trust property charges involving an undisclosed amount of cash.

In Redcliff, Tapera Sengweni was arrested on three counts of stock theft and one count of abusing trust funds.

He was also accused of stealing $12 794 from Nicholas Masuku of Mbizo in Kwekwe.

Prominent Bulawayo lawyer Sindiso Mazibisa was accused of swindling a South Africa-based businessman, Titus Ncube, who wanted to buy shares in the attorney’s mining entity worth $350 000.

Recently, prominent Harare lawyer Edson Tapiwa Mudambanuki appeared in court after fleecing a client in a $250 000 property deal, but he compensated his client when the matter was set for trial, leading to the withdrawal of the criminal charges against him.

During the same year, LSZ de-registered four lawyers and closed three law firms for failing to uphold ethics and operating in premises that were deemed to bring the name of the legal profession into disrepute.

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