While most judiciaries in East Africa are grappling with allegations of corruption and pandering to the executive, Rwanda is making headway in reducing case backlogs.
The country adopted a series of constitutional and judicial policy measures that saw a six-month old case termed a backlog suit, compared with for instance Kenya where some civil cases have gone on for over 10 years.
The new measures include the creation of the Court of Appeal, which has taken over some cases that were pending at the Supreme Court and the electronic case management where cases are filed and payments made online to save time.
These reforms have seen Rwanda reduce its case backlog from 18,400 in 2011 to 6,700 in 2018.
Chief Justice Sam Rugege, in an interview with The EastAfrican said that the most successful strategy was to engage temporary contract judges to deal with the backlog from the lowest courts to the highest.
“In addition, the law requires that a judgment be issued within 30 days from the time the hearing is complete, unless there are compelling reasons for a delay. Secondly, the Inspectorate of Courts must get reports from every court on monthly basis,” he said.
Justice Rugege said that the Rwandan judiciary has also set targets where every judge must complete 15 cases every month.
“We have surpassed our targets and we are increasing the targets to 20,” he said.
Justice Rugege said that the alternative dispute resolutions (ADRs) mechanisms, Court-Annexed Mediation, and Alternative Justice Systems (AJS) are also playing a significant complementarity role in this reduction process.
In Kenya, since 2011, the case backlog has been reduced by over 50 per cent from over one million to about 533,000 cases, but there are an estimated over 60,000 cases that date back from five to 10 years.
Kenya’s Chief Justice David Maraga said there are efforts to reduce the case backlog and blamed the slow pace of resolution of disputes to some inefficiencies in the judiciary and a large number of people seeking justice. For instance, 344,180 new cases were filed during the 2016/17 financial year.
Kenya has also embraced the Court Annexed Mediation launched in 2016 and supported by the World Bank’s Judiciary Performance as part of its $120 million Improvement Project programme. Many of the case backlogs involve commercial disputes.
In Uganda, over 24 per cent of the cases in courts are more than two years old, while close to 1,000 cases have been awaiting for more than 10 years. But, the judiciary has been progressively clearing cases from 150,620 cases handled in the 2014/15 financial year to 175,005 cases were tried by the end of 2017.
In Tanzania, efforts by the judiciary to reduce the backlog have seen a total of 141,107 cases settled at all levels of the court as of March.
There are still 26,259 cases at district and resident magistrate courts, out of which 5,220 cases were over one year old.
The country is still struggling with reforms in the judiciary, especially in the application of ICT such as improvement of database management, case filing and electronic filing of records and evidence.