Scores of prisoners, some serving up to 20 years behind bars, who turned up at the appeals court on Thursday without lawyers to represent them, stoked the debate raging in the legal fraternity that justice is too expensive for poor folks.
Attorney General, Dr Athalia Molokomme, last year promised a legal aid scheme to help those who cannot afford to engage lawyers, but so far nothing has come out of the promise.
In an interview, Molokomme said that they were working with several stake holders on the project amongst them the University of Botswana Legal Aid Clinic. She said the scheme should be up and running “within reasonable time.”
Efforts to get a comment on how far they have gone on the project were futile as she was reported to be held up in meetings.
Last year, one of the country’s prominent lawyers, advocate Peter Collins, expressed concern about this situation which he described as “absurd”. This happened whilst the Court of Appeal was listening to appeals from lay people who did not have lawyers representing them.
Another Gaborone lawyer, Dick Bayford, this week expressed the same sentiments.
Bayford said it was undesirable to see that most of Batswana still appear in court without legal representation.
This he says can only lead to injustice and innocent people ending up in jail not because they were guilty as charged but because they could not afford lawyers to represent them in court.
The root cause of this, he said, was poverty as some are not working and those who are working do not earn enough to afford legal representation.
Bayford said this situation called on government to intervene and introduce legal aid as a matter of urgency so that people will get the legal protection guaranteed under our Constitution.
”It is clear that currently , we have a situation that needs urgent government attention in making sure that she introduces legal aid in order for people to enjoy the legal protection which is enshrined in our Constitution.
If this is not done, then justice is not being done”, he said. Besides, he said it was time the country’s criminal justice system changed and considered other alternatives to incarceration of people.
He also condemned the current system of parole saying it was not working effectively because very few offenders benefited from it. The same he said applies to the extra mural system. The system as well he said benefits only a few offenders.