The Supreme Court, late December, dismissed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the authority given to Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) to conduct searches on individuals, buildings, and premises without court warrants in case investigators have justifiable grounds to suspect that a crime is being committed. ALSO READ: Top five court cases that stood out in 2023 Filed by lawyer Edward Murangwa in May 2023, the petition was, in part, challenging some provisions of Article 10 of the 2017 law establishing RIB and determining its mission, powers, organisation and functioning, saying they contravene some articles of the constitution. Article 10 of the law allows investigators to “search any person or property, enter premises without a warrant” if there are reasonable grounds for suspicion that a criminal act is being committed or is to be committed there, or reasonable grounds suggesting that the premises are housing a criminal suspect or an object used in committing a crime. The petitioner argued that such provisions violate Article 13 of the constitution that guarantees the sanctity and inviolability of an individual’s rights and the state's duty to respect, protect, and defend every person. Building on this, he pointed at how improper it is for RIB, an institution that belongs to the executive branch of government to conduct searches without the authorisation of the judiciary, which is the authority responsible for safeguarding human rights. The court ruling The verdict issued by the Supreme Court explained that lawmakers who promulgated the law establishing RIB stipulated provisions for investigators and prosecutors to carry out searches without a court warrant in situations where delays would jeorpadise the purpose of conducting a search in the first place. Delays in such scenarios may lead to continuation of crime or loss of evidence. In different less urgent situations, investigators and prosecutors are required to obtain a search warrant issued by the Prosecutor General. Murangwa had argued that RIB should not be the institution issuing the warrants, but the judges’ response pointed to the difference in Rwanda’s system. Here, they gave examples of how search warrants work in different countries due to different judicial systems. ALSO READ: The Supreme Court ruling that ‘triggered’ a review of sentencing laws For instance, they noted that in countries like Belgium, France and Cameroon, courts have specific judges who focus on investigations and who don’t even try cases. Known as juge d’instruction, such judges specifically focus on processing search warrants, following up on investigations, to avoid juggling the duties of trying cases and those of investigation. Safety nets Here, the Supreme Court noted that in Rwanda’s system, to avoid assigning judges with both trying cases and following up on investigations, the responsibilities of providing search warrants was given to RIB by law, since it is the institution in charge of investigations. In addition to this, the judges argued that the mere fact that a search warrant is provided by the judiciary, does not guarantee that the searching processes will not violate human rights. They pointed at a number of legal safeguards that protect the people who are being searched in Rwanda, including the fact that investigators have to produce a statement about the search, have to conduct it in presence of the owners of the premises (if they are available), have to be done in presence of local governments leaders, and so on. The ruling also stated that in case the process is done in a way that violates the law, the searched individuals can take legal action against the investigators, for example suing them for damages and compensation. In an interview with The New Times, Murangwa said the ruling may not have been his desired outcome of the proceedings, but celebrated the fact that the court concurred with some of his arguments, despite turning down his plea in general. He lauded the legal avenues in place for people to go all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge some laws that they think are not right. He promised that whenever there is a need to challenge some laws, he won't hesitate. “Whenever it's necessary I will do it again and again, but it's important to note that this is a great avenue that our government embedded in both our constitution and our laws for every citizen to get justice,” he noted.