Cases closed through plea bargains have surpassed the 5,000 mark in just over a year since the introduction of the procedure in Rwanda, according to judicial data. From August to December 2023, over 4,000 cases were resolved through plea bargains, in addition to more than 1,500 cases during the earlier stages of the year and the latter part of 2022. ALSO READ: Prison population on the rise despite decongestion efforts Plea bargaining, a new operational procedure since October 2022, involves negotiations between the prosecution and defence, where the defendant pleads guilty to specific charges in exchange for a more lenient sentence or other possibilities, such as the dismissal of charges. Currently applied in cases of assault and theft, the procedure was initially planned for a five-year pilot phase in five intermediate courts—Gasabo, Nyarugenge, Gicumbi, Muhanga, and Musanze. However, officials at the judiciary opted to roll it out nationwide. The last quarter of 2023 witnessed a substantial number of cases resolved through plea bargains, with October registering 960 cases, November 1166, and December 795. Harrison Mutabazi, the judiciary’s spokesperson, expressed optimism in an interview with The New Times, saying the procedure’s early performance suggests improved future outcomes. Plea bargaining offers several advantages, including the facilitation of obtaining key information from suspects, and aiding in the fight against organised crime. It also expedites justice delivery, reducing court backlogs and prison overcrowding by minimising the number of cases reaching courts or prisons. ALSO READ: Inmates eligible for parole after serving a quarter of their terms “People are getting justice in a short time because. Some of the people who had their cases settled through plea bargaining would have probably had their cases heard late this year,” Mutabazi told The New Times. Plea bargaining aligns with Rwanda’s shift towards a new criminal justice policy, incorporating proposals such as the use of electronic bracelets for detainees and increasing opportunities for parole for convicts serving jail sentences. Additionally, the judicial sector is emphasising the use of alternative dispute resolution measures, such as mediation and conciliation, to supplement traditional litigation processes. ALSO READ: Gov’t to save Rwf15b annually in prisons decongestion In January 2023, the government launched two policies; one for Alternative Dispute Resolution and the other for Criminal Justice. These policies aim to implement various changes in the justice sector, with the Criminal Justice Policy seeking to build a coherent, connected, innovative, and problem-solving criminal justice system. It emphasises imprisonment “as the last resort”, acknowledging its necessity for some offenders but recognising its potentially destructive impact on individuals and their families.