What obstruction of justice means

Access to justice is important because, without it, victims of crime receive no assistance. That is why Law Nº68/2018 of 30/08/2018 Determining Offences and Penalties in General criminalises obstruction of justice.

One of the ways of obstructing justice, according to article 242 of Law Nº68/2018 of 30/08/2018, is refusal to appear before the organ in charge of investigation, public prosecution or any other authority. This attracts a term of imprisonment between one month and six months and a fine ranging from RWF200, 000 to RWF 500,000.

Another form of obstruction of justice is failure to inform the relevant authorities about a crime that has been or is about to be committed. According to article 243 of the Law Determining Offences and Penalties in General, any person who is guilty of this is liable to a term of imprisonment for not less than six months.

However, the minimum term of imprisonment is increased to one year if failure to disclose a crime results in negative consequences. The punishment is doubled if the offense is about to be, or has been committed against a child.

A person is also considered to have obstructed justice if they fail to assist or seek assistance for someone in danger if they are in a position to do so, and providing assistance doesn’t pose any risk to them or another person. This is according to article 244 of Law Nº68/2018 of 30/08/2018. For this, the culprit faces imprisonment for no less than a year.

When a crime has been committed and a person destroys evidence by changing the state of the scene of the crime or burns, destroys, hides or changes an object that could assist in solving the crime, they have obstructed justice.

Under articles 245, 246, 247 and 248 of the Law Determining Offences and Penalties in General, destruction of evidence leads to a term of imprisonment not less than one year. The punishment is higher for staff members of judicial organs and for those who have been authorised to disclose the truth using their expertise. 

Obstruction of justice by way of hiding the corpse of a murdered person is a serious offense under article 249 of the Law Determining Offences and Penalties in General. It carries a minimum term of imprisonment of five years and a maximum of seven years.

Other ways of obstructing justice include use of threats or intimidation to stop someone from lodging a complaint, refusal to testify when in possession of evidence of the innocence of a prosecuted or convicted person, or evidence of commission of a crime, and refusal to answer questions from judicial authorities or security organs. This is according to articles 250, 251, 252 and 253 of the Law Determining Offences and Penalties in General. However, if a person believes that answering questions will lead to self-incrimination, they are not punishable.

Articles 255 to 262 also consider that someone has obstructed justice if the person gives false testimony, misleads witnesses or judges, refuses to take an oath before judicial or intelligent organs, influences someone to give a false testimony, or gives false expert declarations. It is also illegal to threaten, insult or cause violence to judicial personnel and invalidate a judicial decision.