Home Uncategorized Judicial Week Launch: Chief Justice Ntezilyayo On Challenge of Case Backlog, Limited Human Resource

Judicial Week Launch: Chief Justice Ntezilyayo On Challenge of Case Backlog, Limited Human Resource

by Edmund Kagire
12:44 am

Chief Justice, Dr. Ntezilyayo said they are doing all they can to resolve the case backlog in courts.

The Chief Justice, Dr. Faustin Ntezilyayo says Judicial institutions are working around the clock to address some of the challenges that still affect dispensation of justice for Rwandans as it should, among them a huge case backlog and lack of enough human resources to handle the issues the sector is dealing with.

Dr. Ntezilyayo, who is also the President of the country’s Supreme Court, made the observation at a Press Conference on Monday to launch the 5th Annual Judicial Week, which seeks to address some of the key issues the country is facing within the Justice, Law and Order Sector .

This year’s judicial week themed “Timely and Quality Justice: 20 years after the Judicial Reform, Achievements, Obstacles and Vision”, comes at a time when the country’s courts are grappling with a high number of cases which are yet to be tried, a challenge he said they are devising new mechanisms to address without compromising or delaying justice for the citizens.

“The biggest challenge we face today is the case backlog, mainy because the cases that we register in the courts are more than those that we can handle at any given time, because we have a limited number of staff, which makes it difficult for us to provide fast and timely justice,” the Chief Justice said.

According to the Judiciary activity report for the year 2022/2023, 62 percent of the total cases were behind schedule. A total of 112,284 cases were registered that year, of which 83,097, equivalent to 74 percent, considered criminal cases which had to await trial.

Dr. Ntazilyayo, said that while the reforms the judicial sector has undergone over the past 20 years have been progressive with many achievements registered, the country still has many challenges to address that hinder dispensation of justice, including case backlog as well as limited staff especially in the courts.

“Over the past 20 years, the judicial reforms we initiated have paid off, in terms of building capacity of our justice institutions and staff, whether it is in terms of training judges, prosecutors or other employees of the institutions and putting in place the technology to make our work more efficient,”

“However, we are still facing some hindrances including a huge case backlog because we receive more cases than those the courts can handle, mainly due to limited staff, including in prosecution and investigative organs,” Dr. Ntezilyayo said, citing a big turnover in staff who leave judicial institutions for other lucrative fields, even after training them, as the other challenge.

RCS Commissioner General Evariste Murenzi, Aimable Havugiyaremye, Prosecutor General and Chief Justice, Dr. Ntezilyayo.

“As a result of this high turnover, we keep recruiting and training, and that is not sustainable,” the Chief Justice said, adding that one of the solutions they are looking at is to find the necessary resources to remunerate staff better as a way of retaining them.

He said however that regardless of those challenges, Rwanda continues to be recognised among the countries making progress in terms of strengthening judicial institutions, the country ranking among the best performing on the continent and among those on a positive trajectory globally.

Dr. Ntezilyayo said that such progress should be reflected in how Rwandans access justice, in a fast and efficient manner, which is something they are working to address. Among other things, he said that they are looking at ways of fast-tracking cases, including the single judge trials, depending on the nature of the case, as opposed to a panel of judges.

“We found out that this innovative approach works very well and it has helped us fast-track some cases which otherwise shouldn’t be waiting. All we had to do was to make sure that there are necessary checks to ensure that the trial is fair and objective, because some people had doubts about one judge making a decision,” the Chief Justice said.

Dr. Ntezilyayo dismissed allegations that Rwanda’s justice system favours remanding suspected criminals, even for simple civil cases, over bail, pointing out that in the majority of the cases they handle detention becomes the last option after other alternatives have been exhausted.

He said that right from the investigative process to the time the file goes to court, the option of not remanding a suspect is considered, unless circumstances dictate otherwise, for example in a situation where evidence can be jeopardised, but in most cases the individual can retain their freedom, including during the trial.

“We have been looking at all these options. Our intention has never been to detain people but rather to correct and reform, which is why even our facilities are called ‘correctional centres’. We have also been using plea bargains to ensure that suspects are part of this process. Those who cooperate with judicial organs don’t have to be remanded,” he said.

Speaking out on the same issue, the Prosecutor General, Aimable Havugiyaremye said that Prosecutors do not advance the notion of jailing suspects as one of the journalists alleged, pointing out that as of today, remanding a suspect comes as the last option- a point which was equally reinforced by Jeannot Ruhunga, Secretary General, Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB).

“It is not true that we always push for remand. It goes against the spirit we have been talking about of declogging courts, holding cells and correctional facilities. We believe in a justice process where if people cooperate and conduct themselves accordingly, they do not go to jail,” Havugiyaremye said, adding that today, not all files received are considered for trial.

“Some cases are handled at our level, without having to be forwarded to courts,” he said, adding that in many cases where suspects enter a plea bargain, files have not been sent to court, especially where the parties in the case agree to resolve issues amicably.

Similarly, the RIB Secretary General said that not all cases investigated are sent to prosecution. He pointed out that the first option is to resolve cases and close them at the investigative level where necessary, unless there is a need to take the file to the next stage.

The officials said that everything is being done to ensure that the number of people sent to detention facilities is minimized, but Dr. Ntezilyayo said that as the country develops further, crimes evolve and become more sophisticated, which in most cases leaves law enforcement organs with few options, including remanding suspects to safeguard evidence.

Dr. Ntezilyayo acknowledged that having a huge number of people on remand awaiting trial is a major challenge, with some people having to wait for up to two years, for what was supposed to be 30 days on remand, to be tried. “It is a challenge that bothers us too”, the Chief Justice said, again attributing it to the shortage of judges and court staff.

He further said that this is mainly because the cases are of a criminal nature and cannot be handled otherwise, which means that the suspects have to wait. Among other things, he said they have requested for a bigger budget, which is pending approval by Parliament, to increase the human resources and remuneration in the Justice sector.


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