20 September 2012

Rwanda: Justice in Time

Reforms overhaul prosecution's response as judiciary promises

Rwanda's National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) cleared its huge backlog of over 35,000 cases since the 2004 judicial reforms started, attempting to restore hope in the Rwandan society that saw high-degree crime rate which ended with the 1994 Genocide.

"We don't want a situation where cases in court are postponed for two years because of backlog," says Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga as prosecutors from all over the country give summaries of how their respective districts have dispensed cases.

Such performance, says Inspector of Prosecution Denis Kariwabo, is attributed to the performance contracts (imihigo), review of the law governing prosecution and support from various groups. "Team work and setting performance targets would ensure that cases do not pile up again," he said.

After starting work on Imihigo in 2009, Kariwabo says the prosecution vowed to dispose of 90% of new cases. In the year 2012 to 2013, the prosecution vowed to dispose of all newly received case dossiers by 100%.

He says the aim in these "performance contracts is that by end of every year, every case must be concluded and that quality will not be compromised in the process."

Ngoga says that in the past cases, the prosecution gave due diligence to the issue of quality. "We looked, in general, at the improvement of dossiers from Prosecution. It was evident that the quality improved from year to year, based on issues including experience people got; directives given; improvements in qualifications and other reasons."

Capacity building is critical to the performance of the justice sector, especially in courts to speed up the cases, a prosecutor who did not want to be named says, adding that is "why steps were taken to increase that capacity.

"The Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILDP), situated in Nyanza district, southern Rwanda, contributes to strengthen the justice sector by providing a practical legal training for all those involved in the justice sector," the prosecutor further said.

Judiciary promises

It is not just the prosecution trying to dispense the heavy backlog of cases but the judiciary, a crucial partner in making sure that justice is dispensed quickly is also putting in place policies to reduce backlog.

In a recent interview, Chief Justice Prof.Sam Rugege said the Judiciary wants to set up a court of Appeal that will be higher than the High court but lower than the Supreme Court.

"This is still a proposal that we have not discussed exhaustively with all our stakeholders, but if realised, the Supreme Court would be able to particularly focus on cases of general interest, the Constitution and its interpretation," said Justice Rugege

Citing other possible reforms, Rugege revealed that there are plans to reduce cases that start at the High Court. Such cases include murder, treason and terrorism.

Ngoga agrees with the plan to establish the Court of Appeal, which will hear many of the cases that are currently heard in the Supreme Court.

"The proposal is based on empirical study that was done by the Judiciary on how to resolve the issue of case backlog in a sustainable way. We, in the justice sector, are going to look at this proposal and advise accordingly. In any case, I believe a combination of reforms being undertaken will provide a sustainable solution," said Ngoga.

Part of the reforms will see the Commercial Courts changing jurisdiction. The law states that all cases above Rwf20 million start from the Commercial High Court and can be appealed at the Supreme Court.

"We want to have all financial related cases start from Intermediate Commercial Courts, and then appealed at the Commercial High Court. In the rare case there is need for a second appeal, then the plaintiff can go to the Supreme Court," added the Chief Justice.

The President of the Commercial Courts, Benoit Gakwaya, said that most of the 800 commercial cases in the country are being heard in Commercial Courts.

"With this reform, we will have most of the cases starting from the Nyarugenge intermediate commercial court. This implies that we will need to train judges more (in commercial law)," said Gakwaya.

A study conducted by the Legal Aid Forum recently indicated that the delay in trying cases impacts negatively on the economy and the financial status of individuals.

"This is a very good move. Normally, if a case is delayed, people tend to think they have been denied justice," said the coordinator of Legal Aid Forum, Andrews Kananga.

He added that he agreed with the need to give competence to the lower courts, considering the fact that there is need to ease the Court's caseload.

World over, easing backlog of cases is a crucial factor in improving the justice system of a country and there is no doubt that the reduction of backlog in Rwanda will come as a great relief to ordinary citizens.

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