Eswatini Daily News
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Pholile Shakantu with representatives from the different stakeholders.

By Bahle Gama

LEGAL Aid policy has arrived to rescue 58 per cent of emaSwati who cannot afford the services of an attorney and 90 per cent who expressed that they would use legal support if accessible. On Monday, Minister of Justice, and Constitutional Affairs Pholile Shakantu launched the country’s first Legal Aid Policy as well as an office that emaSwati will visit for consulting on legal-related issues.
The launch that was held at RHUS Park where the new office is located was graced by different stakeholders in the legal fraternity.

The purpose of the policy is to establish a coordinated national legal aid system for promoting access to justice, by providing affordable, accessible, and accountable legal aid services to indigent and vulnerable people. Shakantu stated the percentage of emaSwati who cannot afford the services of an attorney was courtesy of the Legal Aid Needs in Eswatini 2022 survey commissioned by the ABA ROLI working in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs as part of the ABA ROLI’s Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) programme in the country.

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The minister said that the call for the legal aid system emanated from various stakeholder engagements and research findings conducted in the past years. This, she said was also in line with the SGD 16, the National Development Plan as well as the ministry’s strategic plan which recognises access to justice as a solution to remove inequalities.

“This survey indicates that the majority of emaSwati face diverse legal problems and often use the wrong recourse to address them due to a lack of legal information and advice,” she said. Shakantu said that these barriers effectively exclude the indigent from enjoying the right to access justice on an equal basis with others.

However, the minister pointed out that the legislative framework in the form of the Legal Aid Bill for the full operationalization of the office was being processed, adding that she was optimistic that it would be prioritized in the 12th Parliament. According to Shakantu, the Bill outlines the mandate of the office and areas of cooperation with stakeholders. She emphasized that the office was solely responsible for the administration of the legal aid system.

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This entails provision, administration, coordination, regulation, and monitoring of the whole legal aid system in Eswatini through the adoption of mixed methods which will tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience from other stakeholders. “However, since legal aid is at the inception stage, services will be provided incrementally starting with the first three, which will not include legal representation in courts pending the coming into force of Legal Aid legislation,” she said.

She disclosed that the Ministry commits to avail the necessary resources at its disposal to ensure that the office delivers on these identified areas. Shakantu said that she was mindful that the demand from members of the public is to have accessible lawyers to represent them in court, adding that even though the office will not be able to provide this service in the immediate term, “I am certain that the services will be made available once the legislative framework has been put in place.”

She noted that the launch had come at an opportune time when the country is engaged in the general elections, wherein emaSwati are exercising their Constitutional Right to elect their chosen representatives. She stated that the 2023 general elections enable all people including vulnerable groups to ensure that they vote for candidates who will support national policies to advance their interests.

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Meanwhile, the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative applauded the Ministry for this initiative and stated that particularly for poor and marginalized groups, the justice system can be difficult to understand and navigate due to obstacles. Legal aid will incrementally be availed countrywide Minister Shakantu has assured emaSwati that legal aid services will be available in strategic places across the four regions of the country.

As a means to ensure this is quickly effected, the ministry collaborated with the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to provide workspace. “In line with the government’s decentralization policy, the legal aid services will in crementally be made available in strategic places across the four regions of the country,” she said.

She further stated that whilst plans to decentralise legal aid services are underway, these shall be available at Rhus Old MTN Park in Mbabane. The identified areas for satellite offices will operate on designated days and the public will be informed in due course of when they will be fully operational.

These are:
i.Lobamba Police Station

ii.Siteki Regional Headquarters

i.Nhlangano Police Station
ii.Hlathikhulu Police Station
iii.Gege Police Station
iv.Kaphunga Police Station
v.Hluti Police Station
vi.Lavumisa Police Station

i.Manzini Police Station

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