President Paul Kagame has congratulated judges for improving their services to Rwandans in the last 10 years and encouraged them to continue working hard to build a more efficient justice system for the country.
The Head of State delivered the message, yesterday, while launching the new judicial year for 2015/16 at the Rwanda Defence Forces Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, Eastern Province.
The launch of the new judicial year also marked the end of a three-day retreat that saw some 501 judges and court registrars discuss their service to the people and how to improve it.
President Kagame said the best yardstick of the judges’ performance at the moment is the satisfaction of Rwandans for their services and the growing trust people have in the judiciary.
Among the registered improvements on which the President congratulated the judges include cutting back the time it takes to resolve cases and reducing the longstanding backlog of cases.
According to a recent study by Transparency International-Rwanda, 80 per cent of Rwandans are satisfied with court services.
“Today, the Rwandans we serve have higher expectations than ever, of the state, and I am glad to see that the judiciary is beginning to respond accordingly. You are using modern technology, and innovating new ways to deliver better service and promote accountability. Like in every other sector in our country, these methods have earned us good results, and are improving the lives of Rwandans,” Kagame told the judges.
The President urged them to keep striving for impartiality and transparency, values and practices that need to replace any remaining cases of inefficiency and corruption in the judicial sector.
Out of 2,804 respondents interviewed by Transparency International-Rwanda in a recent study, 9.1 per cent said that they perceived judges as corrupt while 31 per cent said that judges are partial.
“You must strive to maintain the utmost vigilance on integrity in your sector. Rwanda has already established zero-tolerance to corruption as a national value. We are counting on you to eliminate both the reality and perception of corruption in the judiciary,” the President said.
He said that every judge should avoid being involved in taking bribes and encouraged the entire judiciary to hold everyone accountable in case of corruption.
“One case of corruption means more than just the failure of one individual, it undermines everything else you have all worked so hard for,” he said.
Noting that the justice sector is not yet where it wants to be, the President urged judges to increase the number of professionals in the judiciary, continue to upgrade their knowledge and skills, as well as make use of advances in Information and Communication Technology to improve services.
While one of the challenges faced by the Judiciary in the country is being able to bring suspects (foreign-based) of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to court, President Kagame challenged the judges and prosecutors to keep challenging leaders of countries in which the fugitives live to prosecute them.
“The countries that continue to shelter Genocide fugitives, even though they claim to have the most advanced justice institutions in the world, need to be challenged,” he said.
The President also spoke out on the abuse of universal jurisdiction and urged Rwandan judges to challenge the practice by building an effective justice system back home.
“We must also continue to reject the abuse of universal jurisdiction for political ends. We will do this on principle, but also because we have worked too hard to overcome serious bias of our justice system. Today we stand able, willing and ready to take action on all important judicial matters. We should live in a world of equals, performing the functions that our sovereignty grants us, and not accept to be spoken for,” Kagame said.
The Chief Justice, Prof. Sam Rugege, promised the President that judges will continue to improve their services to the people by doing everything to fight any cases of corruption, leverage advances in ICT to start an electronic case management system, and deploy the use of mobile money technology to help clients pay court fees.
“We will strive to put the use of technology at the centre of court operations,” Rugege said.
Kagame also held a close-door interactive session with the judges in Gabiro yesterday, which officials said was an opportunity to interact with him and discuss more justice related matters with the aim to forge a better way forward for the justice sector.