The Legal Aid Forum (LAF) is a network organization that works to promote access to equitable justice for all, particularly the indigents and vulnerable groups. The Legal Aid Forum believes that
1) equitable access to justice is crucial to combating poverty;
2) promoting good governance and the rule of law. It is a basic human right and an indispensable means towards conflict resolution;
3) access to justice should not be a right enjoyed only by those who are able to pay for it. It must be accessible to and affordable to all citizens, including the poor and vulnerable groups and
4) a fair and well-functioning system of legal aid is therefore vital to ensuring justice, fairness, equality and development.
Executive Director Me Andrews KANANGA in his opening remarks.
Since its establishment in 2006, LAF’s work has greatly contributed to increased legal aid services, increased rights awareness and outreach, positive legislation in favor of legal aid and access to Justice, increased capacities among legal aid providers and other justice sector actors, increased collaboration among legal aid service providers to mention but a few. Specifically, with regard to the improved performance of the criminal justice system in Rwanda and promoting access to justice for people in the criminal justice system, LAF has contributed through capacity building to criminal justice actors such as judicial police officers, prisons staff, prosecutors and lawyers, doing research and advocacy on issues related to pre-trial detention, providing legal assistance and representation to detainees and other community members. Particularly, the Legal Aid Week has been an important initiative between the Government and non-State actors-legal aid providers to ensure access to (quality and timely) justice for minors in conflict with the law, pregnant and nursing women in detention, the ill and elderly detainees.
Hon Ambassador nicola bellomo giving out his remarks.
In an effort to cement these achievements in the criminal justice system, the Legal Aid Forum, with the financial support of the European Union, has implemented a project titled “Improving the Performance of the Criminal Justice System in Rwanda”. The two years project was started in January 2016 and ended in December 2017.
Project objectives and expected results
The overall objective of the project is to improve the performance of the criminal justice system in Rwanda through provision of legal aid, awareness and human rights education.
The expected results of the project are:
1) Communities and detainees are aware of their legal rights and relevant criminal justice procedures;
2) Criminal justice system actors are empowered and alternative measures to imprisonment are used;
3) Vulnerable groups and indigents mostly detainees, women, children, historically marginalized persons and people with disabilities are provided with legal assistance and
4) The detention conditions and issues faced by detainees are known and discussed for action.
PM Frank MUGISHA presenting the objectives and achievements of the project
Project implementation approach and coverage
Three major approaches were used during the project implementation; 1) Participatory approach whereby all key actors will be involved in the project at different levels, 2) Holistic approach by providing the full range of legal services to those in need, and 3) Human rights-based approach as all actions were guided by human rights principles and values. The project was implemented across the country, specifically in 26 districts and in 10 prisons.
Key project achievements
The project has registered interesting achievements that will be presented in details during this restitution event. However, it is important to mention the following:
Up to 35,000 people in the local communities and 21,600 detainees were sensitized and are aware of their legal rights and relevant criminal justice procedures;
256 stakeholders of the justice sector (judges, prosecutors, judicial police officers, advocates and prisons officials/staff) acquired new information about detainees’ rights and on case management.
2,441 detainees claimed for and sought assistance for the realization of their legal rights. They were provided with various legal aid services to resolve issues related to prolonged and/or unlawful detention, requests for the scheduling (hearing) of cases, applications for the review of cases, completion of dossiers, asserting the right to legal assistance for the indigents were more than 600 people were represented before courts of law; etc.
The two editions of the Legal Aid Week (2016 and 2017) benefited 120,935 people.
A number of advocacy events (roundtable, meetings) were organized to discuss criminal justice issues.