A DECISION by Cabinet to set new court fees has been received with mixed feelings. The contention is on the significant raise in fees which have increased more than 10-fold from the current rates which have been in place since 2001.
The government says the revised fees will help courts meet the daily operational costs, which have increased over the years.
But on the other hand, civil society activists argue that the new rates will lock out many people from accessing justice.
While this is a legitimate concern, the issue should be looked at rationally, in light of the changes that have taken place over the years. Ten years since these fees were set, a lot has taken place in the Judiciary.
There are more demands and challenges that have dictated such a review. The existing fees structure is no longer commensurate with current needs of the courts to deliver quality services.
The world over, judicial services are expensive. That is why many countries, including Rwanda, have put in place mechanisms to assist those who cannot afford court fees.
This is where the civil society should also come in to help the vulnerable like victims of rape and domestic violence, who in many cases don’t have financial capacity to seek justice.
The civil society should also carry out sensitisation drives on the alternatives to courts.
Courts should be the last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted.
In the past, courts have grappled with matters that could have been adequately handled by the lower courts or even the mediators.
The local leaders should also help guide the masses to utilise all the available justice channels such as the grassroots-based mediators’ framework, as well as arbitration forums in case of commercial disputes, before going to courts.
However, government can also consider the possibility of implementing the new fees in phases.
For instance, instead of an instant increase from Rwf2,000 to Rwf50,000, the increment could be spread over a period of time.
In the first phase, say, the increment can be Rwf20,000, followed by Rwf40, 000 and eventually the full fee of Rwf50,000.