By Desmond Chingarande
The State’s plot to “fix” MDC vice-chairperson Job Sikhala’s trial on treason charges has been exposed after it allocated the case to a Masvingo legal practitioner who it gave the indictment papers with instructions to represent the legislator on pro deo without his knowledge.
A pro deo refers to legal representation of a person accused of a capital offence, but is unable to afford a legal practitioner and is funded by the State.
Sikhala, who is being represented by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), only came to know of the issue after the State-appointed lawyer, Charles Ndhlovu, approached him saying he was instructed by the Masvingo High Court registrar to represent him on pro deo.
The MDC vice-chairperson blew his top and said he suspected a plot by the State to interfere with his trial.
“How did the registrar just pick a legal practitioner when it is clearly indicated on the indictment papers that they were served to my legal practitioner,” Sikhala said.
“I wonder what their motives are. At law, someone can be allocated a legal practitioner to represent him or her on two grounds. Firstly, when the accused person has requested it and, secondly, when the accused person is not able to choose a legal practitioner of choice on a serious offence.”
Sikhala said he had a competent legal team that had walked with him from initial remand to date.
“The ZLHR are available. Would they allow me to go on a State persecution trial without legal representation?
Common sense should have spoken to the State that I have got enough legal ammunition to face the trial. My party president, vice-presidents and treasurer-general are all lawyers!” Sikhala fumed.
The MP said six South African advocates had also volunteered to represent him in the trial and he is discussing the issue with his legal practitioners on how to accommodate them and seek temporary practising certificates with the Justice ministry.
However, Ndhlovu told NewsDay that he did not know why he was given Sikhala’s indictment papers with instruction to represent him.
“I only received Sikhala’s indictment papers with instructions from the registrar of the High Court that I must represent him on pro deo,” he said.
“I do not know why they chose me, but I contacted Sikhala knowing he has the capacity to fund his legal fees.”
Masvingo deputy registrar of the High Court Hazvineyi Mwanyisa confirmed to NewsDay that Sikhala’s case was allocated to Ndhlovu, saying if he did not want his representation, he could choose a legal practitioner of his choice.
Mwayisa invited NewsDay to her office to verify with the record, but after being asked if it was procedural to allocate an accused person’s case to a legal practitioner without his consent, she said they only did that because they did not attend his indictment at the magistrate’s court.
“You can come and verify with the record. Ndhlovu is Sikhala’s lawyer. We allocate any case to a lawyer, but if he does not like him, he can choose his legal practitioner of choice. When he was indicted, we were not at Bikita Magistrates Court, but here we only allocate cases to lawyers and it will be up to accused to proceed with him or not,” she said.
But Sikhala insisted that it was not the norm in the administration of justice in the country that a person who has not declared legal incapacitation would have a lawyer chosen for them.
The MDC has been accusing the State of persecuting its members with more than 10 senior members of the party charged with treason which carries a death sentence. NewsDay