Members of the Rwandan legal fraternity, grouped under the Legal Aid Forum, are seeking ways to encourage public interest litigation. The move was disclosed yesterday during the ‘National Conference on Enforcement of Rights through Public Interest Litigation’.
Public interest litigation refers to legal actions initiated in a court of law when the community has an avid pecuniary interest in a matter in which their legal rights or liabilities are affected. The cases allow individuals, communities and organisations to challenge government decisions and policies in order to guarantee people’s rights and hold authorities to account.
Speaking at the meeting, Andrews Kananga, the Executive Secretary of Legal Aid Forum, said public interest lawsuit is not yet well understood in the legal practice.
“It’s an important tool for transformation in many developing and developed countries because it acts as a vehicle for legislative and policy reform,” he said.
Without citing any specific cases in the country, Kananga stated that research carried out by his institution discovered that the practice of public interest litigation in Rwanda still lags behind other nations due to the limited capacity and willingness of lawyers to take up such cases.
“Capacity building schemes are required for lawyers and NGO’s to increase their litigation and advocacy skills in the domain, as well as encouraging them to embrace the idea of strategic interest litigation.”
According to Jennifer Robertson Scott, a Scottish lawyer and legal consultant, public interest litigation is a mechanism by which public participation in judicial review of administrative action is assured.
“Public awareness is needed to advance the concept and bring all relevant institutions on board, like the judiciary and parliament,” she noted.
One of the lawyers attending the conference, Albert Nkunda, told The New Times that the litigation is very important because it provides immense social benefits, especially when the judiciary fails to arrest injustices.
“We need to apply public interest litigation into practice since it allows disadvantaged people to commence litigation in order to promote social, economic and environmental justice”.
The Legal Aid Forum is a network of 30 legal national and international non-government organisations, university legal aid clinics and faith based initiatives that provide direct legal aid services to vulnerable persons. The organisation currently has 1,300 paralegals countrywide that provide legal advice and assistance.