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Know your civil servant - Lydia Kambonde - Everyone deserves justice

2021-10-01  Staff Reporter

Know your civil servant - Lydia Kambonde - Everyone deserves justice
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The Namibian Constitution requires the State to provide free legal representation to anyone accused of crimes who cannot afford a private lawyer. 

The court often appoints government-employed legal counsels to mostly represent the destitute. 

These government-employed lawyers are also known as public defenders, and the government has an army of well-trained public defenders at the Directorate of Legal Aid in the Ministry of Justice. 

They are called upon every day to represent the indigents, despite the public belief that they do not deserve free representation.  

However, for public defenders like Lydia Kambonde (born Nghipandulua), everybody, even those accused of committing dreadful crimes, have the right to a fair trial.

Kambonde is a senior legal officer, stationed at Ondangwa Magistrate’s Court.

“My responsibilities as a legal aid counsel are to represent indigent persons on their legal matters; that means proper consultation before litigation,” she said. 

She works in five different stations, spanning two regions: Oshana and Ohangwena.

These are Ondangwa, Ohangwena, Eenhana and Okongo (both district and regional courts) as well as High Court matters in Oshakati.  

“I don’t only do criminal matters. I also do civil matters like divorce as well as other civil claims.”

Kambonde spent her early childhood years in Oranjemund. She later moved to Windhoek, where she completed primary and secondary school. 

The Delta Secondary School matriculant went on to complete a B Juris degree and LLB degree from the University of Namibia.

“I joined the public service in November 2012 after a three-month training programme. I was unemployed for almost two years. I then got my first job in 2012 at a law firm in the north. However, I only stayed two months at the private firm and then joined the public service. When I received that call in July 2012 from Ms Daringo, the current chief of legal aid – it was one of the most memorable days of my life.”

She said, “It was my dream to work for the government. People would be surprised as to how many young law graduates are trying to get legal positions in the public service. Everyone is looking for job security and the platform that the legal aid provides – you get to serve people who are at the grassroots level. I am truly fortunate and I thank God.”

Unlike their colleagues in the private legal profession, public defenders are faced with many challenges, including a shocking caseload. 

“Currently, we are taking on a lot more as legal aid counsel, as there are financial constraints in our government. On the upside, legal aid has lawyers all over the country – and we are proving to be more than capable in handling the workload,” Kambonde says.

Nevertheless, the benefits of being a public service lawyer outweigh the challenges.

“What I find most satisfying in my job is when my clients personally come to me and thank me for the job I’ve done. There is a misconception that state funded counsel isn’t efficient. To be honest, 80% of the population here is heavily reliant on State-funded counsel, and our clients are highly satisfied because they are well represented.”

For her, this serves to disprove the general perception that public service lawyers are inefficient.

“The fact is that the only people who can attest to the efficiency of legal aid counsels are the people in remote areas, who solely rely on us.” 

“Most people that perpetuate that perception don’t utilise our services. Without legal aid, most people would not be represented, and the requirements of Article 12 of the Namibian Constitution would not be met. I could never agree with that negative sentiment,” Kambonde says in defence of legal aid counsels.

Kambonde said she has accomplished a lot over the years of the public legal profession.

She recalled taking on a case where a client had spent over N$100 000 in private counsels. 

“He ran out of money and could no longer pay. He then applied for legal aid and got me to represent him. I remember discussing this case with the lawyer dealing with the matter previously and he wasn’t hopeful for the client.”

“To cut the long story short, we succeeded in getting him home – even though the odds were stacked against us. That client has spoken so highly of me; hence, to date, I get so many calls to represent people.” 

“However, I always remind them that I work for legal aid and that they would have to make an application through the directorate to be able to receive my services. Also, the fact that divorce lawyers are so expensive, and indigent persons have access through legal aid, it gives me great satisfaction to be able to give quality service to those who cannot afford it,” Kambonde recalled.

With all that said, Kambonde has declared “I have no plans to leave the public service anytime soon. I would like to do a few Supreme Court cases and finalise all my major cases in the High Court soon. Should I become one of the greatest litigants this country has seen, I would like to attain that kind of reputation – only while in legal aid”.

She concluded she would love to see legal aid being capacitated to employ more lawyers, “so that young law graduates are employed and will ensure that the directorate saves funds in having enough in-house lawyers all over the country. This is important because legal aid strives on accessibility”.

2021-10-01  Staff Reporter

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