Promoting and facilitating the rule of law, equality and fairness
By Moses Kirui
Rwanda has been at the fore front in crafting and implementing the reforms and over the last 10 years, the Rwandan judicial system has undergone various reforms putting it at par with international standards. After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda committed itself to the rule of Law and Good Governance principles.
The 2003 Constitution set the ground for the legal framework of reforms in all the institutions. It is in this context that the judiciary too had to undergo reforms that resulted in tremendous achievements in a bid to promote and facilitate the rule of law in the country; emphasizing equality of all persons before the law and ensuring that judicial institutions are effective and efficient in the provision of legal services to the public.
The reforms in the judiciary were basically designed to meet the following objectives:
Streamline the organizational structure and the functions of the judiciary
Put in place qualified and skilled staff and continuously build their capacity
Acquire decent and adequate infrastructure for court functioning
Acquire necessary equipment for proper court functioning
Timely process court cases and improve service delivery to litigants
Strengthen partnerships and complementarity with judicial stakeholders
Strengthen the independence of the judiciary
Reforms in the judicial structure
The organizational structure and functions of the judiciary were reformed with the aim to improve and ease access to justice, a process that Rwanda considers a major pillar for Good Governance and development.
In terms of structure, before 2004 the Supreme Court had 6 separate chambers, each with its own president under the coordination of the Chief Justice. This structure created weakness that led to; clashing of different organs, Poor resource utilization and General poor performance.
After the reforms the structure took a new shape:
The Supreme Court was restructured to form one single unit under the Chief Justice. It was also given a mandate to oversee the functioning of other courts.
The former four Courts of appeal were replaced by one single High Court to improve coordination of lower Courts;
Commercial Courts were established last year to deal specifically with commercial litigations in order to speed up proceedings and therefore enhance the investment climate in the country.
In regard to Jurisdiction, before 2004, most cases would end up in the Supreme Court. Today the appeal is categorized depending on the nature and weight of cases, such that some of them end at Intermediate or High Court levels. This has reduced the backlog of cases and discouraged endless litigations.
The Primary Courts have been empowered to handle most of the minor cases from the communities they serve.
In regard to changes in functioning;
The laws have been reformed to provide for single judge sitting even at appeal level except at Supreme Court, with the aim to remove the delays in the processing of cases;
Each Court and each judicial personnel commit to performance levels which they have to deliver upon, by the end of a given period. This provides for individual accountability and transparency within the system;
The Judiciary has also been reformed to be able to handle its own finances and budget, a situation that didn’t exist before 2004.
To ensure effective implementation of the judicial reforms in place the Judiciary has ensured qualified and skilled personnel. For instance, before 2004, there were only 74 qualified judges out of a total of 702 (11%). Presently all the 281 judges have at least a law degree. The number includes those who have masters degrees and PhDs.
Visible achievements in Judiciary
Capacity building of the courts staff
In a bid to boost efficiency and credibility among the judicial staff, the Judiciary organized various events that have since enhanced their abilities in Justice delivery and related matters. They Include :
Initial trainings have been organized for newly recruited judges and registrars before starting to work.
Serving Judges and registrars have been trained on new laws and on problems caused by interpretation and application of laws.
Study tours have been organized in different countries: Holland, France, Belgium, Canada, Mauritius, The Unites States, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Some judges and registrars have been facilitated to further their studies:
38 have been facilitated to get bachelor’s degrees in Law.
17 have been facilitated to get Master’s degree in law from Rwanda and South Africa.
47 have been trained by the institute of Legal Practice and Development-ILPD that has been established to provide training in legal practice
Gender balance in the Rwandan Judiciary
Before 2004, women were 108 out of 702 Judges (15%). Presently Women (judges) are 102 (36%) out of 281 Judges. Precisely, women make 45 % of all courts Staff in Rwanda.
Office/Court equipment and other facilities
Before 2004, there were 78 computers for 1583 court staff. Presently there are 772 desktops (+ their accessories) and 58 Lap tops for 584 court staff.
Generally, there are many computers compared to court staff because some are installed in the training rooms and documentation centers. There are also some computers used by court staff under contract.
Before 2004, there were 29 printers, but there are 124 presently, 18 scanners with almost all courts having electricity, only 10 of which still use generators. Many courts have been equipped with chairs and other room equipment.
Until 2006, 61 courts still had poor physical working environment The courts have been renovated even though some of them were removed by the 2006 judicial reform.
There are 25 courts that have been renovated and extended namely: The Supreme Court, The Chamber of the High Court at Rusizi, The High Commercial Court, Nyamagabe intermediate court, Huye commercial court and 20 primary courts. Twenty six (26) new courts have been built. These include the High Court, the Chamber of the high court at Rwamagana, 7 intermediates courts and 17 primary courts. All commercial courts are provided with conducive working environment.