Govt turns to private lawyers

The Ministry of Justice is working on a strategy that will allow private lawyers to defend government cases in courts. The move is aimed at complementing the efforts of  state attorneys, according to justice minister Johnston Busingye.
Justice minister Busingye gives a presentation during a meeting of lawyers at the Supreme Court on September 15, 2011. (File)
Justice minister Busingye gives a presentation during a meeting of lawyers at the Supreme Court on September 15, 2011. (File)

The Ministry of Justice is working on a strategy that will allow private lawyers to defend government cases in courts.

The move is aimed at complementing the efforts of  state attorneys, according to justice minister Johnston Busingye.

The country has nine government attorneys with Ngoma, Nyanza, Musanze and Rusizi districts having one each, while Kigali has five.

Local governments and other parastatal entity previously hired private lawyers to defend the State in court.

The government, however, stopped hiring private lawyers in July last year, owing to speculation that the learned friends were deliberately failing to defend the State due to selfish interests resulting into financial loss.

However after 10 months of investigations, the Ministry of Justice realised that pushing out private practitioners does more harm than good, including a resultant backlog of cases which the government was always bound to lose.

It was also found that there were few attorneys compared to the number of cases against public entities and that most times government lost cases after the legal advisors’ opinion had been ignored.

“We will soon involve the private lawyers in our cases. All we want is for them to bear it in mind that they are representing the Attorney General in a trial,” Busingye said. He was addressing a general assembly of the Rwanda Bar Association on Saturday.

He added that government previously lost cases because institutions were not helping the attorneys to find enough information on a particular case.

The hired lawyers will work closely with the institution’s legal advisors, with every case file going to court expected to bear a written opinion of the legal advisor, according to the minister.

Institutions will also be responsible for providing the lawyer with enough information to avoid instances where attorneys lose cases due to insufficient knowledge about the case.

Besides this, government institutions will be required to have a focal point in a particular case.

Pie Habimana, a lawyer from Amicus Law Chamber in Kigali, said the arrangement will benefit both the government and the lawyers.

“Postponing cases because of lack of representation on one side wastes a lot of time but this will be no more,” Habimana said.

However, Bernard Cyamuresi, a legal advisor at the Ministry of Public service and Labour decried the policy.

“It is not a good idea to have private lawyers defending a government institution,” Cyamuresi said.

He said the ministry should instead look into ways of having more state attorneys.

But Athanase Rutabingwa, the president of Rwanda Bar Association, said: “We have a high degree of integrity. If we defend individual clients, how about the State? The move is an indication of government’s confidence in the private sector.”

Busingye said the government had paid at least Rwf3 billion in damages to plaintiffs before different courts in the country in the past two years.

He cited poor coordination between the legal officers of different institutions as the major reason government was losing cases in courts.

 

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