By next month, this year, people will no longer need to spend a lot of time and money traveling miles away to seek legal aid services from lawyers and members of MAJ.
This follows the launch of an application that those seeking such services will be able to access on their mobile phones, which they will use to procure such services.
MAJ is a French acronym for Access to Justice Offices at districts where lawyers appointed by government are stationed to provide legal services to indigent Rwandans.
Through ‘Using ICT to Provide Legal Services to the Rwandan Population’, a joint project by Legal Aid Forum (LAF) and Viamo, an international expert in mobile engagement, the system leverages the wide use of mobile technology in Rwanda which will allow LAF to provide legal information and advice to vulnerable members of society free of charge.
Funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the three-year project, which will run until 2021, will cost over Rwf700 million.
Andrews Kananga, the Executive Director of Legal Aid Forum, said people, especially vulnerable individuals, will no longer need to worry about having to pay for transport fare to get to the offices where they seek such services.
“We realised that people were spending a lot of time and money going to seek legal aid information but, with this system, people’s issues can be cleared on the phone anytime and from anywhere. Should their cases remain unsolved, the system leaves them a helpline for further assistance,” Kananga said.
The project takes a two-phased approach to using mobile engagement to increase access to legal aid information.
Sulakshana Gupta, the country manager of Viamo, said in case people need special advice from an expert via the Legal Aid Forum referral call centre, they can also follow the 845 toll free prompts (MTN subscribers), assuring the request for a call is registered and entered into a call list on the side of Legal Aid Forum
During the process, the call requester is called back by the legal aid call centre operator who fills out an intake form and then refers the case to the right legal aid providers.
Before its implementation starts, LAF has requested some key focal points from the Ministry of Justice to be part of the technical committee that will elect specific topics of public interest to make available through 845, receive feedback from callers, review content every few months and make suggestions for improvement.
So far, according to a mini survey conducted among 2,800 people by LAF, land issues, GBV, execution of judgment, arrests and detention cases are dominant.
Victor Mugabe, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Bar Association, hailed the ICT-based legal aid initiative.
“This is a very good initiative. People were walking kilometres looking for legal support but I think this is not going to be the case any more,” he said.
The Government has recognised that the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) can greatly improve the performance of the justice sector, specifically in electronic court filing system (IECMS).