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Rwanda Wins Commonwealth Access to Justice Awards

by Daniel Sabiiti
8:34 am

Rwanda’s Minister of Justice, Dr. Emmanuel Ugirashebuja (right) received the awards from Patricia Scotland KC.

Rwanda has won the inaugural Commonwealth Access to Justice Innovation Awards 2024 for improving access to legal services for vulnerable people through its two innovative projects.

The two awarded initiatives are: Abunzi (community mediators) and the Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS)- both which were initiated to provide meaningful access to justice and help to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 16.3 on ensuring equal justice for all.

Abunzi (Mediators) Committee Program was set up in 2004, drawing practices of Rwandan traditional methods of conflict resolution to settle disputes at the grassroots level to foster community cohesion.

Rwanda’s IECMS- was launched in 2016, the system streamlines judicial processes through automation and facilitates seamless information sharing among institutions, ultimately fast-tracking justice delivery.

The awards were presented to Rwanda’s Minister of Justice, Dr. Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, by Patricia Scotland, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth at 2024 Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting (CLMM) which took place in Zanzibar March 4-8, 2024.

The CLMM was held under the theme: “Technology and Innovation: How Digitalization paves the way for the development of peoples centered Access to Justice”.

Minister of Justice, Dr. Emmanuel Ugirashebuja giving his reception remarks

In his reception remarks, Minister of Justice and State Attorney General, Dr. Ugirashebuja said that Rwanda initiated the innovative programs as a way ensuring access to justice

“When we do this innovation, it is because we want as many people as possible to have access to justice and have appropriate means of resolving disputes,” Ugirashebuja said, Technology has helped us achieve that and being awarded is just a bonus.”

The 2024 Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting (CLMM) in progress

Also among winners was Kenya’s Office of the Registrar Magistrates Courts- which received an award for its small claims court, established as part of the country’s vision of ‘Social Transformation through Access to Justice’.

The court offers people a simpler, faster, and cheaper substitute for resolving claims valued at up to 1 million Kenyan shillings (about $6,950). In the past three years, the court has resolved more than 50,000 cases.

A Kenyan official, who accepted the award, spoke about the significant impact of the small claims court, which has reduced the time spent on minor disputes from 10 years to under three months.

Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland KC, announcing the awards

Announcing the winners, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland KC, said that these initiatives are making the difference.

“The need to address the formidable challenges of access to justice cannot be overstated. We can only rise to the challenges by unleashing our knowledge, ingenuity and imagination,” Scotland said.

Scotland noted that those awarded reinforce the Commonwealth (CW) faith in its ability to be the difference it wants to make in the world, and she commended Rwanda and Kenya for their innovative work on promoting access to justice for all.

“Their innovative spirit has been channeled into initiatives which are positively impacting millions of people and have set a shining example for all countries,”

“These initiatives demonstrate how legal support can be made more affordable and more accessible to people as well as more responsive to meeting their diverse needs, ensuring that no one is left behind,” Scotland said.

Winners and participants at the inaugural Commonwealth Access to Justice Innovation Awards 2024

Pro Bono Heroes:

In addition to the country awards, Patricia Scotland announced two winners of the inaugural Secretary-General’s Pro Bono Heroes Awards.

The first winner of the Secretary-General’s Pro Bono Heroes Award was Ugandan non-profit Barefoot Law. It was recognized for making use of technology to provide free legal support and information to about one million people.

The other award went to a pan-Commonwealth team, led by Australian expert Loretta Joseph, for its interdisciplinary work on developing a legal framework for virtual assets.

Entries to these awards were submitted by government ministers and departments from across the Commonwealth.

A select jury of retired judges, former attorneys general, and non-profit executives assessed the entries based on creativity, impact, and potential for long-term change.

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