The Ministry of Justice is in talks with the Kigali Bar Association, the professional body of lawyers in the country, to review the legal fees for lawyers representing suspects transferred to Rwanda from other jurisdictions.
So far former Pentecostal priest Jean Uwinkindi, a transferee of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is the only such suspect whose defence fees are covered by the taxpayer.
The standard hourly fee for a lawyer is Rfw30, 000 and it applies both during court proceedings and separate sessions with the defendant. The suspects who qualify for this facility are either juveniles or adults who were proven to be indigents.
Under the special law that paved the way for the transfer of Genocide suspects from the ICTR and other foreign jurisdictions to Rwanda, government is required to meet the cost of legal representation for suspects who are unable to pay for legal fees. In the event that such a transferee qualifies for this assistance (upon request), the Ministry of Justice engages the bar association which then provides counsel for the suspect.
Previously, the law on these referral/transferred cases was ambiguous on whether such suspects were entitled to just one or more legal representatives, but this was rectified in June, with the law now restricting the number to one attorney.
Uwinkindi, who was transferred from the ICTR in April, last year, has two lawyers who were assigned long before the amendment of the special law.
The two attorneys, namely Gatera Gashabana and Jean Baptiste Niyibizi, have since cost the taxpayer tens of millions of Rwandan Francs in legal fees. The lawyers have already received Rwf30 million between themselves for the services offered between May and October, last year. At the moment, the government owes them duo Rwf10 million.
Prosecution recently accused Uwinkindi's defence team of deliberately prolonging pre-trial phase as a tactic to make more money, a charge the latter rejected. These are astronomical figures especially since Uwinkindi's case is yet to start in substance, according to senior officials at the Ministry of Justice.
At Rwf40 million for a case that's still in its pretrial stage, it's clear that this arrangement is not sustainable considering that more transferees might qualify for the same service, sources said. The law does not determine how much lawyers representing suspects transferred from foreign or international jurisdictions would be paid. That means the fee is open to negotiation.
The New Times also understands that Leon Mugesera (deported from Canada) and Bernard Munyagishari (ICTR transferee) are some of the other high-profile Genocide suspects who have claimed to be indigent and have since asked government to meet their legal fees.
Flat fee favoured:
The other transferred Genocide suspect Charles Bandora (from Norway) has not made such a request, according to sources. Normally, the Ministry of Justice sets aside Rwf140 million each fiscal year to facilitate lawyers who provide pro bono services to juvenile and indigent suspects.
Now officials reckon that this facility is under threat should government continue to pay the standard legal fees in cases involving Genocide cases from the ICTR and other jurisdictions. The Minister of Justice, Johnston Busingye, confirmed the government wanted a change in the arrangement, saying they were in favour of a flat rate, other than the standard hourly fee of Rwf30, 000.
"Our primary objective is to ensure that the accused is accorded proper justice but we also have a responsibility to ensure proper management of state funds. We need to strike a balance through negotiations," said Busingye, who doubles as the Attorney General. But the minister hastened to add that the matter will be settled amicably. "No case will be taken back. We will definitely find a solution to any issues that may arise."
The executive secretary of Kigali Bar Association, Victor Mugabe, confirmed to The New Times that the learned friends body was indeed in talks with government over the charges, saying they were open to the latter's proposal. He said discussions centered on the need to come up with a flat fee, as opposed to the current hourly charges.
"Whatever we will agree upon will be captured in the contracts the government signs with the individual lawyers representing the suspects," he said. Analysts say a flat fee for an entire case might not only cut back on the overall bill but would also help expedite the cases in this category.
Niyibizi, one of Uwinkindi's lawyers, said they were aware of the ongoing talks between the Ministry of Justice and the bar association, adding that they were not against it. "We have heard there is a suggestion for a lump sum fee and we are not against the idea," he told The New Times yesterday.
Uwinkindi, a former pastor in the Kanzenze area in Bugesera District, is charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination and crimes against humanity. The law related to the cases transferred from ICTR and other jurisdictions generally provides for special treatment of such suspects, including the requirement that they will appear before a special High Court chamber on first instance, and will be detained in a special facility.