Draft law sends capital offences to lower Courts

The Judiciary is pushing for reforms to allow Intermediate Courts try capital and serious offences, with the High Court serving as the appellate organ.
Supreme Court judges have a backlog of 5000 cases to dispose of. The New Times / File.
Supreme Court judges have a backlog of 5000 cases to dispose of. The New Times / File.

The Judiciary is pushing for reforms to allow Intermediate Courts try capital and serious offences, with the High Court serving as the appellate organ.

This would help reduce the backlog in the Supreme Court, according to senior officials.

Currently, capital offences such as murder, terrorism, treason and rape are tried in the High Court at the first instance and then appealed in the Supreme Court.

Speaking to The New Times, yesterday, Chief Justice, Prof. Sam Rugege, said the move would ensure that the highest court in the land gets involved only in cases that need the court’s interpretation of specific aspects of the law.

“We are asking Parliament to change the law and give the Supreme Court powers to determine which cases it should handle instead of saying that every case in which a 10-year  prison sentence has been passed can be  appealed in the Supreme Court, “ he stated.

“Once this proposal is passed, it will help in the reduction of backlog of cases, which number close to 5,000”.

“In other countries, including the US, cases that are tried in the Supreme Court are complex ones involving an important point of law like interpretation of constitutional cases  and other  important cases with conflict of decisions from various courts, by judges, which then need clarification by the highest court,” he asserted.

The Chief Justice pointed out that most cases that are appealed in the Supreme Court are not complicated; the accused often merely want to ask the Supreme Court for a final verdict or ask for a reduced sentence.

“For a clear case like that, it’s the waste of time for the highest court in the land to put three judges to decide whether the sentence should be reduced or not.”

The Chief Justice further said that commercial cases that start in the Commercial High Court should also start at the intermediate level as well.

“What we are proposing is that commercial cases start from the Commercial Courts at the intermediate level, irrespective of value of the agreement, and be appealed in the Commercial High Courts”.

According to Johnstone Busingye, the President of the High Court, the proposal is vital since it will help reduce accumulated cases in the Supreme Court and the High Court.

Athanase Rutabingwa, the President of the Kigali Bar Association, backed the proposal saying capital cases  should start from the Intermediate Courts since such courts have judges who are competent enough to try the cases.

“The High Court handles these cases due to the fact that they are tried by competent and professional judges. Now judges in the Intermediate Courts have got the required skills to try serious offences,” he added.

frank.kanyesigye@newtimes.co.rw

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