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My cousin would like to study and subsequently practise law here in Zimbabwe but he has a criminal record. 9 years ago he was given 2 weeks community service for forging a receipt. Please advise if he is still able to pursue a career in law in Zimbabwe or indeed anywhere else in the world.

By Mooya Nyaundi

A criminal record does not prohibit one from going to law school or studying the law, although it may impact negatively one’s admission application. The legal profession is very broad and there are many avenues in which one can use his or her law degree.

A prior conviction is cause for concern for one to be able to practice law as a registered legal practitioner. Most jurisdictions are likely to require that you reveal a prior conviction, including a juvenile record in your application for registration. Whether or not a prior conviction is an outright ban will depend on each jurisdiction.

In brief, registration as a legal practitioner in Zimbabwe is done by way of application to the High Court. Both the High Court and the Law Society of Zimbabwe should be convinced that one is a fit and proper person to be registered.

The application should reveal whether one has ever been convicted or declared insolvent. The application also includes a supporting affidavit by a fellow legal practitioner who can attest that the applicant is a fit and proper person.

Conduct such as forging a receipt reflects adversely/negatively on a lawyer’s honesty and trustworthiness and as such is considered unprofessional, dishonourable or unworthy conduct that may cause an application to be denied.

In accordance with the Legal Practitioners Act, the Disciplinary Tribunal can prohibit, indefinitely or for a specific period, the registration of a person who is guilty of unprofessional, dishonourable or unworthy conduct.  The Act does permit an applicant to offer an explanation in extenuation of one’s conduct.  Juvenile delinquency is one such extenuating circumstance.

Given that community service was awarded, the assumption is that the crime committed by the reader’s cousin was a minor fraud. If the reader’s cousin were to show that he has been rehabilitated over the last 9 years, his application for registration may be granted. The reality is that the decision will lie with the Court and that cannot be predicted with certainty.

 

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