Asurvey conducted by the Legal Aid Forum indicates that only 19.1% of defendants have access to legal advice related to their specific cases before a court hearing begins.
The survey titled, “Monitoring of EDPRS Indicators in the Justice Sector,” was conducted between January 2008 and August 2009, and was supported by the Netherlands Government in partnership with the Danish Institute for Human Rights.
Referring to the importance of legal advice, the report states that the low percentage implies that many citizens lack important analysis of their legal problems, which makes it difficult for them to prepare quality defence arguments.
“The provision of legal advice is an essential step in the process by which the litigant may better understand and analyze his rights as well as legal issues concerning his court file,” it states.
According to Andrews Kananga, the coordinator of the forum’s secretariat, the low rate is attributed to the insufficient number of legal aid practitioners in the country as well as their concentration in the urban areas.
“Few institutions in the country are involved in the provision of legal advice at the moment. In addition to that, those that provide the services are concentrated in urban areas like Kigali and Butare and yet we have more people living in the rural areas,” Kananga said in an interview yesterday.
But he also revealed that efforts were being implemented by both the government and stakeholders to improve the trends.
“The Legal Aid Forum currently has only 34 officials providing free legal advice. However, we are working towards capacity building by increasing the number of officials who provide legal advice and also encourage them to spread across the entire country,” he added.
In a bid to arrest the situation, the Ministry of Justice has set up a justice bureau, whose sole aim will be to give legal advisory services across the country.