Judiciary mulls setting up Court of Appeal
The Judiciary is planning to set up a Court of appeal as part of the various reforms in order to reduce the backlog of cases that are hindering speedy access to justice. The Rwandan Chief Justice, Sam Rugege, confirmed this in an interview with The New Times yesterday.
The proposed court of appeal will be above the High Court and below 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.
The President of the High Court, Johnston Busingye, told The New Times that the re-alignment of jurisdictions was essential.
“Faster disposal of cases is one of the benefits of establishing the Court of Appeal, but re-aligning the jurisdiction will also facilitate the work we do in general,” he said.
Among the reforms envisaged is empowering mediators at the grassroots’ level to handle cases before they could go to court.
“Lower courts are indeed now competent to hear all cases; there is also need to now focus on empowering the mediators,” the president of the Kigali Bar Association, Athanase Rutabingwa, noted.
The Prosecutor General, Martin 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 Commercial Law states that all cases above Rwf 20 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 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.
This will not be the first time the judiciary has undergone reforms. In 2003, it began a series of judicial reforms with the aim of having a more independent, effective and efficient judicial system.
Contact email: edwin.musoni[at]newtimes.co.rw