The Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, has applauded the work of paralegals in extending legal services to the poor across the country.
The paralegals currently comprise 2,900 personnel working under the Legal Aid Forum to provide legal services to all Rwandans.
Busingye observed that the recent increase in legal fees had made it difficult for the poor to access legal services.
He pointed out that “simple civil cases” were the bulk of court backlogs, yet they can easily be solved by paralegals.
“Cases in court include disputes over land, inheritance, gifts, animals destroying crops, breach of trust, small person-to-person loans, family feuds and child neglect, among others. When not tended to, they have the potential to degenerate into long standing conflicts,” Busingye said at a conference in Kigali yesterday.
“In societies still struggling to transit from poverty and illiteracy, giving paralegals the capacity to break down justice issues into easily understandable matters empowers citizens and gives them the ability to take charge of their lives,” Busingye said.
The price for justice is currently high, according to the Legal Aid Forum, yet 45 per cent of Rwandans live below the poverty line while 30 per cent are illiterate.
Statistics show that the average cost of legal advice per case is Rwf89,826, while access to justice per litigant is Rwf158,724.
Andrew Kananga, the Executive Director of Legal Aid Forum, said the high cost means that 79 per cent of litigants are not represented in courts of law.
“Justice must be accessible and affordable to all citizens, including for the poor and vulnerable groups,” Kananga said in an interview.
“Paralegals are addressing this challenge by extending legal services to all people irrespective of economic status. We have provided training to volunteers who offer legal services to communities,” he added.
Busingye said the judiciary, prosecution and the other criminal justice agencies use over Rwf18 billion annually and process around 60,000 cases annually.
“This rising cost of litigation in the formal justice sector makes these alternative dispute resolution initiatives more imperative,” Busingye added.
In order to trim down the cost, Kananga said the forum seeks to ensure that each of the 2,148 cells in Rwanda has at least two paralegals within the next five years.