Non-professional bailiffs, mainly cell and sector executive secretaries, fear to enforce court decisions. The situation results in slow progress in the execution of such judgements and restricts access to justice including court awards – the damages legally owed to people who won cases, it has emerged. The issue was exposed by the activity report of the Office of the Ombudsman for the financial year 2022/2023. The report started being analysed by the Lower House’s Committee on Political Affairs and Gender on January 8. Bailiffs in Rwanda are classified into two categories – non-professional bailiffs, and professional bailiffs. Non-professional bailiffs include 416 sector executive secretaries and 2,148 cell executives in Rwanda. Non-professional bailiffs are public civil servants whose powers are provided by the law to be bailiffs while they are still performing their duties. They include the Executive Secretary of the District, Executive Secretary of the Sector, Executive Secretary of the Cell; and Deputy Coordinators of Access to Just Bureaus (MAJ), indicates information from the Ministry of Justice. Ombudsman’s report indicated that in 2022/2023, it received 396 complaints from citizens over non-executed court decisions. It pointed out that 296 of them were solved (with its support), while 92 were still being worked on by concerned entities. Ombudsman Madeleine Nirere told lawmakers that executive secretaries of cells and sectors proposed that the execution of court decisions should be done by professional bailiffs as it is in line with their competence and principal duties for which they are paid due fees. MP Aimée Sandrine Uwambaje said that if no effective strategy is devised to address the issue, it will be recurring in the years to come. She wanted to know how such an issue can be solved, and whether local leaders should remain responsible for executing court decisions. Nirere said her office thinks they should remain with such responsibilities. On why they think that non-professional bailiffs should maintain the responsibility, the Deputy Ombudsman in charge of Preventing and Fighting Injustice, Odette Yankurije, said they are the ones who are close to the people, and they consider both sides while executing court decisions – on the interests of the winner of a case and its loser. Professional bailiffs, she said, in most cases focus on their interests and rush to sell the property by auction, and it results in a situation where a citizen becomes a burden to the government. Here are some of the factors leading to fear among non-professional bailiffs over enforcing court decisions: Government does not represent non-professional bailiffs in court cases According to information from the Ministry of Local Government, when legal action is taken against a non-professional bailiff by a party dissatisfied with a court decision they enforced (such as through property auction), they stand trial alone as the government does not represent them or pay for their representation in court. The New Times understands this situation makes the duty to execute court judgments a risk for them, and as a result, discourages them from enforcing them. This is the case mainly because a cell executive secretary finds it difficult to afford the fee –Rwf500,000 in general – to pay a lawyer to represent them in court. ALSO READ: Court bailiffs, notaries called on to help uphold rule of law While professional bailiffs are paid fees that vary depending on the purpose of court decisions or other enforcement orders, such as compulsory debt recovery, non-professional bailiffs are not paid a fee – apart from the ordinary salaries they are entitled to as civil servants. Given that some lawsuits involve a relatively small amount of money as a court award to a case winner – less than Rwf100,000 – employing professional bailiffs would be a costly option. For instance, the fee to be paid to a professional bailiff for carrying out a public auction of movable or immovable property located in different areas is Rwf150,000 per auction. When execution of court judgments conflicts with social affairs Meanwhile, The New Times understands that there are civil cases such as divorce where property like a residential house has to be auctioned to enforce a court order, meaning that the person occupying it must be evicted from the house for the forced public sale. And because a local leader (such as cell executive secretary) who is supposed to execute the court decisions is in charge of the welfare of the person in question, they are in a stack choice as they do not have any other place to relocate them. This implies that even though the judgment gets executed, such an action could make the problem worse than the case in question – some people face a lack of accommodation, consequently. What should be done to solve the problem? Yankurije said, “The recommendation we are giving is that they [non-professional bailiffs] should prioritise amicable court judgment execution, without necessitating auctions. What they fear are those auctions because they drag them to court, but if people execute court decisions amicably, there will not be subsequent cases,” she said, pointing out that auction can be the last option. Meanwhile, she said there is a need for an effective approach to provide legal assistance to those who are sued in court over the execution of court decisions.