THE Government plans to spend Rwf9.4 billion on offering legal aid services to the poor and vulnerable people as part of broader efforts to ensure that all Rwandans have access to quality justice.
Access to legal services remains a challenge for the indigent, especially those who live in remote areas in the country. The government’s initiative is plausible and a timely intervention since it will almost certainly ensure access to justice for all – since those who would otherwise not have afforded legal fees and other related costs will receive government support.
However, its success will largely depend on how it is implemented. If the service is not effectively executed, it will be easily manipulated and abused by unscrupulous people. As such, there is need for measures to be taken to ensure that the system is not abused. Checks should be put in place to ensure that only those who qualify for this service get it.
For example, one of the parameters to verify if someone qualifies for this service would be to look at their income level category and crosschecking with local leaders. Only those proved to be indigent should be eligible for legal aid.
Furthermore, these services should be decentralised to the community level, so that people can easily access them.
It does not help to establish legal aid centres only in the urban areas, yet the majority of would-be beneficiaries are in the countryside.
Nonetheless, residents should be encouraged to seek redress from Abunzi (local mediation committees) since they are closer to them and do not charge fees.
Research has shown that Abunzi are an effective restorative justice system which has helped the country dispense justice within a short period of time, thus enhancing harmony at the grassroots while at the same time it has helped ease the backlog of cases in conventional courts of law.
The fact that poor people will now be facilitated to go to court should not be reason for some people to avoid the Abunzi mechanism as it is a very important component of our justice system.
Only cases that are beyond Abunzi jurisdiction should be referred to the classic courts.