The Ministry of Justice has cautioned members of Rwanda Legal Aid Forum, especially lawyers handling children cases, against neglecting their roles and forcing juvinle suspects to confess crimes.
The warning was issued during a consultative meeting which brought together Juvenile Lawyers from across the country, the Ministry of Justice, police representatives and child rights activists to discuss issues affecting children access to legal aid.
Speaking at the event, Martine Urujeni, the head of Access to Justice Services Department at the ministry, said recent assessment in the December 2017 across courts and prisons, revealed that child inmates still face several challenges in prosecution process.
She said key challenges involve children being compelled by advocates to confess their crimes, long trial process, and failure to appeal when needed.
Others are failure to visit child inmates to discuss their case proceedings, and failure to reconcile children with their victims in cases involving less than 5-years sentence where necessary.
“Generally, the support provided by juvenile lawyers is recognised but they need to improve on the issues highlighted. The issue of forcing children to confess is where we got many complaints (18 cases). On one hand, some children may say so because they are overwhelmed by the life in prison but in other cases lawyers force them to confess in the name of fast-tracking the legal process,” Urujeni said.
She said Rwanda Legal Aid Forum was informed about individual cases of lawyers who were cited in order for the Forum to conduct further investigations about their cases.
Those who may be found to have been unprofessional could be suspended depending on the gravity of the offence, according to Urujeni.
Information from the ministry indicates that there are cases of children who spend a lot of time at Police stations.
Urujeni said that the Police and the Rwanda Correctional Service were also informed and they look forward to getting positive feedback on how the challenges will be solved.
Charles Murama, the public legal aid and judgment execution specialist and state attorney, explained that normally a lawyer is required to take time to explain to children consequences of their crimes, possible penalty and through discussions take decisions based on mutual consent.
“Mostly in crimes involving up to 10 years of imprisonment, when the suspect confesses their crimes they get chance of reduced sentence. After taking time to analyse all facts, the lawyer can try to convince the child that all the facts criminalise him/her and help the child to understand the benefit of confessing but never try to manipulate the child to confess when the child is not willing to do so. Otherwise, it is a violation of their rights,” he argued.
Meanwhile, Bernadette Mukamusoni, one the juvenile lawyers operating at Intermediate Court of Musanze, said they are understaffed and also face challenges of being informed late of the available cases which may be hard for some to make necessary preparations in advance.
She called on all the stakeholders to address the ministry’s concerns.
According to the ministry, juvenile delinquents are mainly accused of three crimes including theft, sexual violence, drug abuse and trafficking.