The Law Society of Upper Canada intervened to promote the rule of law in Zimbabwe on July 26, 2001, following reports indicating that the independence of the judiciary was being undermined by threats to, and intimidation of judges. The independence of the judiciary was also being undermined by the sustained campaign to force the resignation of a number of judges, including by threats of violence. This campaign had been fuelled and encouraged by the Government and a principal target of the campaign was Chief Justice Gubbay, who had been forced into early retirement.
On July 26, 2001, the Law Society of Upper Canada adopted the following motion:
WHEREAS the Law Society of Upper Canada, the traditional name of the governing body of lawyers in Ontario, Canada, is committed to the principles of the independence and integrity of the bar and the judiciary, and to the principles of democracy, liberty, and responsibility, all in the public interest;
THEREFORE the Law Society of Upper Canada conveys to the Government of Zimbabwe the Society's deepest concerns and strongest condemnations of the attacks on those principles by the Government of Zimbabwe, specifically and without limitation the forced retirement of Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay and the intimidation of judges and officials in the administration of justice system. The Law Society of Upper Canada calls upon the government of Zimbabwe to affirm and act upon an abiding commitment to the principles enunciated above, and thereby gain the respect of ourselves and the international community.
Between March and May 2008, numerous reports were released about the escalating violence related to the recent election in Zimbabwe, noting that defenders most frequently arrested, tortured or threatened are trade unionists, lawyers, journalists, students, religious leaders and women activists. In the midst of the political violence, lawyers are prevented from performing their professional duties and violations of the rule of law continue to escalate.
In June 2008, the Law Society released the following public statement:
The Law Society of Upper Canada Expresses Grave Concerns about Threats to the Rule of Law and Escalating Human Rights Violations against Lawyers in Zimbabwe
The Law Society expresses its deep concern over reports of escalating use of force and violence by State agents in Zimbabwe to silence the political opposition and its perceived supporters, including Zimbabwe lawyers. These acts of harassment and violence undermine the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law, and threaten the democratic principles of the country.
Reports indicate that State sponsored violence has caused the deaths of over 20 people in the post election period and there have been more than 450 arbitrary arrests and detentions, mostly of opposition supporters and officers from the Electoral Commission. It appears that the detained officials are being denied legal representation. Police are preventing lawyers that have attempted to represent detainees from carrying out their professional duties.
Reports show that in the worsening human rights climate of the past five years, tremendous demands have been made on human rights lawyers in Zimbabwe. State agents have threatened, harassed, assaulted and detained lawyers in an attempt to intimidate and silence them.
The Law Society conveyed in 2001 to the Government of Zimbabwe its deepest concerns and strongest condemnations of the attacks on the principle of the independence and integrity of the bar and the judiciary, and to the principles of democracy, liberty, and responsibility, all in the public interest. The Law Society reiterates its concerns and condemnations in the wake of the present election crisis.
The Law Society of Upper Canada urges the Government of Zimbabwe to,
- reinstate the rule of law and uphold the Constitution of Zimbabwe, international and regional conventions ratified by Zimbabwe, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights;
- guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all lawyers in the discharge of their legitimate professional duties;
- take prompt action to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of lawyers when their detention is arbitrary and aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;
- guarantee that lawyers who are in custody will not be tortured or ill treated and have access to a lawyer, to family members and to necessary medical treatment while in detention;
- put an end to all acts of harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe;
- ensure that lawyers can carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of arbitrary detention, torture or ill treatment, or other human rights violations.
The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for the more than 39,000 lawyers in the Province of Ontario, Canada. The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.
The Law Society urges the legal community to intervene in support of members of the legal profession in Zimbabwe in their efforts to maintain the independence of the legal profession and to promote the rule of law.