Govt tables new draft law seeking to revamp legal aid

The Government yesterday tabled a new draft law that seeks to establish legal aid in a bid to realign its regulatory framework and improve efficiency.

The Government yesterday tabled a new draft law that seeks to establish legal aid in a bid to realign its regulatory framework and improve efficiency.

Legal aid is the provision of assistance to people, mostly regarded as indigents, who are unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system.

The Bill, according to officials, seeks to address issues relating to insufficient legal representation, scarcity of legal aid providers, and insufficient legal aid funds.

For example, while it has been mostly known to be provided by civil society organisations, services like Access to justice Bureaus (MAJ), court bailiffs, Abunzi (local mediators) and other non-state actors were supposed to feature into a common legal framework.

Explaining the draft law, State Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs Evode Uwizeyimana said the purpose of the draft law was constitutionally driven and sought to respond to some international obligations in the justice sector.

“The practice (of providing legal aid services) has been there but its function was not that efficient. This law comes to provide an up-to-date regulatory legal framework,” he said.

“The legislation and the administrative processes toward legal aid were a bit scattered and there was need to provide a clear guidance.”

If enacted into a law, the minister said, it will help the country handle better cases of deportees and extradited suspects who have been claiming guarantees to access of justice.

“Some countries would require guarantee for fair access to justice for would-be deported suspects and or those who are transferred through extradition treaties, the framework will help us on this,” Uwizeyimana said.

According to the Bill, a pool of fund will be created and financed by government, private sector, non-governmental agencies (NGOs) and other development partners.

The fund’s status activities and the total amount of its operational cost will be determined by a ministerial decree.

Legislators commended the initiative to have the draft law in place but called for coordination on affiliated sectors.

“The draft law has come when many people needed it, but let there be a clear mandate between a secretariat and a committee that will be established to coordinate legal aid,” said MP Theodomir Niyonsenga.

Article 4 of the draft law states that a Legal Aid Secretariat will be put in place to provide technical support to the Legal Aid Steering Committee.

The Secretariat will be the organ responsible for day to day coordination and management of the provision of legal aid services.

The lawmaker also questioned government on the relevance of having a ministerial decree establishing the fund on legal aid, calling for more discussions around it.

The Bill will now head for more scrutiny at the committee level.

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