More poor and vulnerable people in Kigali will now access legal aid after Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) committed to supporting the government efforts to provide pro bono services with £1 million (over Rwf1 billion).
The support comes at the time studies show that Rwf1 billion was needed for legal aid to vulnerable people, and yet less than that was available every year.
Narcisse Mupenzi, Community Justice Analyst/Senior State Attorney at the Ministry of Justice, that the new funding will help to reach out to grassroots citizens who were lacking access to legal aid due to financial constraints.
“According to the constitution, all citizens have access to justice. Therefore, those who can’t afford the cost should be supported. The Ministry of Justice allocates a budget every year but it is limited. The funding will fill in the gap,’ he said.
Mupenzi said that some vulnerable people do not have knowledge about laws and they need education to guide them on access to justice.
“At least 95 per cent of vulnerable people who need justice are getting legal aid. However, we want to fix all the gaps,” he said.
He said that prioritised cases include those of gender-based violence, women, children, land conflicts, people with disabilities and others who are in the first and second Ubudehe categories.
The project, unveiled on Tuesday April 5, to be delivered by Legal Aid Forum (LAF) seeks to improve access to justice and the well-being of the poorest and most vulnerable communities of Kigali.
It is a collaborate with various Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) providing free legal services in Kigali, the Rwanda Bar Association (RBA), and some leading law firms in Rwanda and university legal aid clinics in Rwanda.
Andrew Kananga, the Executive Director of LAF, said that there are various ways lawyers and law students will contribute to strengthening the rule of law, access to justice and poverty eradication through provision of pro bono legal assistance.
“In the suburbs of Kigali city, there are vulnerable people who can’t afford to pay advocates when they take their cases to court. The minimum cost is Rwf500,000. We have now signed with Rwanda Bar Association (RBA) on how the lawyers will intervene. The support also guides the people on how to handle the matters without necessarily going to court. This includes advice, mediation and other approaches,” he said.
He said that over 600 vulnerable people are supposed to get legal aid by 2024.
Meanwhile through other interventions, so far, 125,571 indigent and vulnerable people have been supported by civil society organizations to provide legal aid.
Lawyer Johnson Kabera who heads Rwanda Bar Association’s commission in charge of providing legal aid to vulnerable people said that every lawyer has committed to support at least one vulnerable person to access justice per year.
The association has over 1,300 members.
“In one year and half we have supported between 10,000 and 20,000 vulnerable people,” he said.
Push for a legal aid fund
Meanwhile, lawyers say that the absence of a legal aid state-financed fund continues to deprive many poor Rwandans of an opportunity to be heard.
On the other hand, the government insists that the money to finance such a fund would require billions that it does not readily have.
In 2018, the government withdrew the legal aid draft law from parliament before it was tabled.
Explaining this change of heart, the then Minister of Justice, Johnston Busingye said that the bill was recalled because some articles needed to be revised emphasizing that the issues tied in with budgetary constraints.
Busingye said that on further scrutiny, there was a realization that more than Rwf1bn would be required to finance the cases that would fall under the legal aid bracket if the law was passed yet the government can’t afford it.