Rwanda’s criminal procedure is being amended to give more powers of discretion to judges when issuing penalties to convicts, The New Times has learned. Currently, the country’s criminal procedure law provides for maximum and minimum penalties that judges should not exceed while sentencing convicts. Minimum penalties are issued if there are mitigating circumstances involved in the case, while maximum ones are issued in case of aggravating circumstances. However, there have been arguments that this limits the judges’ discretion, since it makes it hard for them to go below the minimum penalties that are set in place by the law, even in case of serious mitigating circumstances. According to officials from the justice sector, the penal law is in the process of being amended to fix such gaps and to give room for the successful implementation of new criminal procedures like plea bargaining. Anastase Nabahire, the Director General for Justice Sector Coordination at the Ministry of Justice, told The New Times that the country is working to change such laws that tend to give less space to judges when making decisions. In an interview with The New Times, a Judge who preferred to remain anonymous admitted that the criminal procedure law makes it hard for judges “to go outside the bracket of the minimum and maximum penalties.” The judge noted that there are some other mechanisms for lessening the penalties below the minimum, in case they find it worthy. These include issuing of suspended jail terms, fines, or sentencing the convicts to community service. However, he pointed out that these are not enough since in the majority of the criminal cases, the law stipulates that convicts get jail terms. With this, he argued that there is a need to make the process of issuing jail terms more efficient by amending the criminal procedure law. On a special note, local judges can use precedents to issue penalties that are lighter than the minimum penalties set by the law. However, since Rwanda is a civil law jurisdiction, there is limited use of precedent because priority is given to the written laws other than precedent. “That is why we are saying that though such mechanisms like the use of precedent are there, we still need our laws to be amended,” the judge said. Aimable Havugiyaremye, the Prosecutor General, speaking in a meeting organised this week to launch plea bargaining in Rwanda said the amendment of the criminal law procedure will give more room for the prosecutors to make plea-bargain deals with the suspects. In law, plea bargaining is the practice of negotiating an agreement between the prosecution and the defence, whereby the defendant pleads guilty to particular charges in exchange for a lenient sentence. “We are lucky that the criminal procedure law is in the process of being amended to add an article related to plea bargaining,” Havugiyaremye said. “We all do understand the meaning of going below (the minimum penalty) because it is an incentive to the suspect,” he added.