As 2022 winds up, it can be looked at as a year of significant events in the justice arena. These include key court trials as well as new policies aimed at better dispensation of justice in the country. In this article, The New Times looks at five key things that happened in the justice sector this year. Kabuga Trial After close to two years since the arrest of Felicien Kabuga, a key suspect in the Genocide against the Tutsi, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) started trying him in September this year. The 89-year-old who was a businessman who is notoriously known as the “financier of the genocide” is charged with seven counts including genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, and conspiracy to commit genocide. Other charges include persecution and extermination – both as crimes against humanity. During the first hearing, the prosecutors detailed how he provided weapons, financial and moral support towards the atrocious genocide against the Tutsi, and how he was closely connected to the top rulers of Rwanda including ex-president Juvenal Habyarimana and his family. They also told the court how Kabuga’s radio RTLM propagated hate towards the Tutsi in the build-up to and during the Genocide, among other pieces of evidence. The trial is still going on as the court continues to hear from witnesses about Kabuga’s role in the Genocide against the Tutsi. RUD Urunana verdict In January this year, the Military High Court handed life sentences to six people belonging to the RUD-Urunana militia group, having convicted them of taking part in terror attacks against civilians in Musanze district, Kinigi sector. The attacks took place during the night of October 5, 2019, killing 15 people, injuring 14, and destroying property. The assailants who got the maximum sentence are; Selemani Kabayija, the deputy commander of the attack, Theoneste Habumukiza, Emmanuel Hakizimana, Alex Ndayisaba, Fidèle Nzabonimpa, and Jean Damascène Ntigurirwa. Selemani Kabayija, the deputy commander of the attack, along with fighters including Theoneste Habumukiza, Emmanuel Hakizimana, Alex Ndayisaba, Fidèle Nzabonimpa, and Jean Damascène Ntigurirwa are those who got life sentences, while some fighters who had not taken part in the attacks got lighter sentences. New policy for increased use of non-custodial penalties In one of the key changes aimed at improving the justice sector, the cabinet approved a new policy aimed at among other things, increasing the use of non-custodial mechanisms for detainees and convicts. The “Criminal Justice Policy” is expected to give guidance to legislators and judicial officials on how to formulate laws and legal instruments for Rwanda to start using penalties like Global Positioning System (GPS) bracelets as a substitute for detention, and community service and fines instead of imprisonment. Officials at the Ministry of Justice did not set dates for when such changes will start to be implemented, but the policy is a step towards realising them. In line with such changes, the ministry has already done some work to come up with a new law that governs community service as an alternative penalty and is aiming at establishing more legal instruments for non-jail penalties. The policy also aims at increasing the release on parole for prisoners who showcase signs of positive change while in prison. Plea bargaining In October, the judiciary rolled out plea bargaining; a legal procedure that allows prosecutors and defence lawyers to negotiate agreements where suspects plead guilty in exchange for more lenient sentences. The rollout began with a pilot phase that will cover only two crimes – theft and assault in five intermediate courts: Gasabo, Nyarugenge, Gicumbi, Muhanga, and Musanze, but it is expected to be taken to more courts after some time. The procedure is looked at as one that can reduce backlogs in courts and overcrowding in prisons, in addition to assisting investigators to easily get key information from the suspects, which is an advantage in fighting organised crime. Contractual judges Earlier this year, the judiciary said it had hired some private lawyers to temporarily work as judges and registrars as part of the efforts to reduce case backlogs in courts. Twenty judges and 10 registrars were hired in this regard and assigned work in various primary courts within the country. The 2020/21 judicial report had shown that the trials postponed in different courts increased by 28 percent, partly due to Covid-19 restrictions. During the same time, the average time a case spent before it was tried had also increased from 8 to 10 months. Speaking to The New Times, Chief Justice Emeritus Sam Rugege, gave his expert view about what stood out, saying for that for him, it is the continued progress of the judiciary in the delivery of justice. The two strategies of operationalizing plea bargaining and hiring contractual judges to help with reducing backlogs will expedite the delivery of justice o the benefit of the citizens and the courts. The new criminal justice that emphasizes the rehabilitation of offenders and reintegrating them into society is to be welcomed, he noted. He added that The use of non-custodial sentences will not only reduce overcrowding in prisons but will also enhance the rehabilitation and reintegration of delinquents, especially young people to give them another chance to live a useful life for themselves and for society. To assist in the above the laws such as those regarding penalties and sentencing will need to be addressed to allow more discretion to the judges, he said.