Hundreds of cases that are pending in the Rwanda's Supreme Court might stall even further owing to a delay in passing crucial Bills that contain judicial reforms, aimed at reducing a backlog of cases at the Supreme Court.
The lower chamber of parliament has sent back some provisions of the draft law governing organisation, functioning and jurisdiction of courts for redrafting and debate.
“The delay in passing this laws means we can’t have the Court of Appeal in place as early as expected, and the issue of cases accumulating in the Supreme Court will not be addressed as anticipated,” said Severin Simugomwa, an advocate.
The draft law is part of a three Bills that also include the Bill on the organisation and functioning of the judiciary, and one establishing the Court of Appeal, which will be tasked with handling the backlog of cases from the Supreme Court.
The two Bills were passed by parliament and are awaiting presidential ascent, but analysts say the delay of the third Bill halts the whole process.
The three Bills were approved by the Cabinet in the last quarter of 2016 and were expected to be passed in 2017 — to pave the way for the implementation of the proposed reforms.
“All is set to implement the reforms; we are only waiting for the laws to be passed. Once approved there will be no further delay in implementation,” said Harrison Mutabazi, the spokesperson of Rwandan judiciary.
Sources within the judiciary say there are ongoing internal communications showing the reforms could be implemented in June.
The secretary-general of the judiciary has been touring different courts for the past few weeks to assess their infrastructural capacity to handle the reforms.
The planned Court of Appeal will be placed between the High Court and the Supreme Court, having appellate jurisdiction on cases that are decided by the High Court, High Commercial Court and Military High Court.
The provisions of the draft law show the Court of Appeal would take over many of the responsibilities of the current Supreme Court. This would enable the Supreme Court to only deal with constitutional cases and other similar cases.
The Supreme Court tops the list of courts with the most pending cases at 77 per cent, according to the annual report of the judiciary for the 2016-2017 period.
“Despite progress being made from previous years, it still takes at least a year and a half for a case filed in the Supreme Court to be heard,” said David Rugaza, an advocate and a law lecturer at the University of Kigali.
Number of judges
In 2015, the Supreme Court increased the number of judges from 14 to 20, with the aim of dealing with arrears, but challenges remained.
Analysts say this is mainly due to the organisation of the Supreme Court, which dictates that cases both at first instance and appeal level are heard by at least a three-judge bench. This means that the additional six judges only constituted two benches.
The proposed Court of Appeal would hear cases under a single-judge bench, with exception of some cases deemed important by the president of the court.
The delay in adopting the three laws is also affecting other reforms in the judiciary, including the controversial reduction of Primary Courts from 60 to 45.
This would see some courts being merged, leading to judges and registrars from closed courts being moved to other courts.
The draft Bill on organisation, functioning and jurisdiction of courts was taken back for committee discussions as there were concerns that some of its provisions contradicted other laws including the Constitution.