Deputy Chief Justice, Prof. Sam Rugege, recently visited the United Kingdom for three days. During his visit, he gave a public lecture at City University London and held a number of meetings which included: a courtesy call on the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, a visit to the London Commercial Court, a meeting with Mrs. Cherie Blair, QC and a talk to legal practitioners at the international law firm of Allen & Overy.
At the City University Law School, Prof. Rugege spoke on the reforms of Business Laws and the Business Environment in Rwanda. He first gave a historical background of the out-dated, pre-reform legal system and inefficient judiciary exacerbated by the destruction during the genocide.
He gave an overview of the reforms, pointing out that the reforms of institutions and laws were aimed at not just restoring what was destroyed during the genocide but rather at modernization the laws and institutions, improving capacity and efficiency and catching up with developments in the rest of the world.
This has meant adopting a mixed system of law with elements of both the Common law and Civil law incorporating internationally applicable best practices, especially in commercial law.
Addressing the country’s vision of rapid economic development and social progress, he focused on the new Companies Law, the Secured Transactions Law and the new Labour Code, all of which have had a significant impact on the business climate leading to the very positive rating of Rwanda in the World Bank’s Doing Business Indicators for 2010.
He reminded his audience that Rwanda had recently been rated as the No.1 reformer in the World for various business related reforms. Prof. Rugege also pointed to the reforms in the delivery of commercial justice, notably the establishment of specialized commercial courts and their procedures aimed at speeding up resolution of commercial disputes.
By end of September, 2009, commercial courts had disposed of 82% of the more than 6000 cases they started with in May 2008.
Prof. Sam Rugege also dealt with the reform in the business environment including setting up of the one-stop Registration of Commercial Services Agency which has speeded up registration services bringing the time for completion of registration of a company down from months to 48 hours.
The coordination of all business promotion related efforts under the Rwanda Development Board, the sustained war on corruption, emphasis on science and technology in education, improvement of infrastructure and the health for all programme through Mutuelle de Santé, were indicated as important measures in creating a conducive climate for investment and economic advancement.
Lastly, Prof. Rugege stressed that all that would not have been achieved without good governance. Rwanda’s commitment to respect for the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, regular and fair elections as well as community participation in governance have been key to the steady economic and social progress that has taken place over the past decade.
He concluded that although Rwanda still had a long way to go to achieve its objective of a prosperous nation, it had made significant progress in social and economic development and there was every reason to believe that with continued hard work, commitment to excellence and good governance, things could only get better.
At the meeting with the Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Deputy Chief Justice briefed the Lord Chief Justice on developments in Rwanda in general and on the judicial reforms in particular.
The Chief Justice was keen to learn about Rwanda’s move to the Common Law. He was informed that Rwanda has a mixed system but that in the commercial area there was a move towards the Common Law given the realities of globalization, the regional integration in the East African Community and COMESA and the likely admission into the Commonwealth.
The Lord Chief Justice was happy to learn of this possibility noting that Rwanda’s admission would be beneficial in terms of cooperation within the Commonwealth family of nations, especially with regard to capacity building and trade and investment.
The 1st Counselor intimated to the Lord Chief Justice that Rwanda hopes to be admitted at the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth Heads of State and Government. Prof Rugege thanked the Lord Chief Justice for availing Judge David Mackie, a senior commercial court judge who travelled to Rwanda to advise the Commercial Courts and the two agreed on continued cooperation.
Prof. Rugege was given a tour of the London Commercial Court and was particularly impressed by its registry’s advanced case-management system. He expressed the need for collaboration in that respect.
The Deputy Chief Justice, accompanied by the 1st Counselor at the Rwanda Embassy, had a meeting with Mrs. Cherie Blair.
They discussed Mrs. Blair’s interest in Rwanda, especially her role in securing places at UK Universities for Rwandan lawyers to specialize in Commercial law. The Deputy Chief Justice applauded her effort as an important addition to Rwanda’s own capacity building efforts.
He informed her of the impeding establishment of an arbitration centre, to be run by the Private Sector Federation, which is intended to reduce litigation in commercial disputes and thus encourage investors.
The two discussed possible involvement of Mrs. Blair with the centre, once it is established, given her expertise in the area and her membership of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in the UK.
The international law firm of ALLEN & OVERY invited the Deputy Chief Justice to address commercial law practitioners with interest in volunteering in Rwanda.
The firm has a free legal services (pro bono) project which aims to offer lawyers and other professionals in Rwanda an opportunity to benefit from their expertise, through seminars and workshops.
Members of the firm have already been involved in training at the Institute for Legal Practice and Development at Nyanza and intend to continue that service in future.
In his address to the volunteers and partners of the law firm, Prof. Rugege dwelled on the progress Rwanda has made in legal and institutional reform and its ambitious vision for social and economic development.
He encouraged other lawyers to get involved in the efforts to realize this vision. He highlighted the challenges and key priority areas for legal expertise in the country, including negotiation and arbitration skills, drafting of investment and other government contracts and energy and infrastructure law, to guide in the planning of the project.