Rwandan courts are experiencing a significant drop in cases filed after several reforms in the judiciary.
In 2012, a total of 72,509 cases were filed in courts compared to 50,102 cases this year-this represents a 30.9% decline indicating that for the past four years over 5000 cases were being filed every year.
The biggest decline was seen between 2013 and 2014 with over 10,000 cases.
“Mediators played a major role in the reduction of these cases. Only 14% of the cases handled by mediators this year alone, proceeded to court” Chief Justice Sam Rugege said Monday during the launch of judicial year 2017.
“In other words, without mediators, 86 percent of the cases resolved would be in court adding on the burden and delay in justice,” Prof. Rugege said.
The Mediators, are based both at cell and sector levels, and can handle disputes whose value does not exceed Rwf3 million.
In 2013, Rwanda started a new experience with courts, when the judicial reforms put much emphasis in alternative justice. The reforms provided for judicial personnel to help communities in legal matters.
By 2015, mediators were receiving 22,000 citizens seeking legal advice every year, and 95% of their cases are settled according to the National Coordinator of the Justice Bureaus.
This year alone mediators handled 11734 cases and only 1900 cases advanced to courts of law.
According to Judicial report 2015/2016, this decline has been partly caused by a -12 times increase in court case fees of which despite initial controversial opinions from activists and lawyers has seen a change in attitude and positive results as many have sought out-of-court options like mediation.
In 2014 government approved new court fees- the cost of filing a complaint in the primary court was increased from Rwf2, 000 to Rwf25, 000. Fees for an intermediate court rose from Rw4000 to Rwf50, 000 while in High Court the fee increased to Rwf80,000 from Rwf6,000. Supreme court from Rwf8000 to Rwf100,000.
Legal activists who were uncertain of the move at the time and even questioned the rationale of increasing the court fees, warning that it might get justice out of reach for many people, now have a second thought two years later.
“So far the progress is commendable but we advocate for more investment in the sector for more to access justice without necessary looking at numbers of cases,” said Edouard Munyamariza, the Executive Secretary Civil Society Platform of Rwanda.
The Chief Justice says that even with this registered progress there are more plans underway to ensure that numbers of cases are reduced further.