1 billion rwf to help the poor access free legal services | The new times
More poor and vulnerable people in Kigali will now have access to legal aid after civil society organizations (CSOs) pledged to support government efforts to provide pro bono services with £1million (more of 1 billion Rwandan francs).
The support comes as studies show that one billion Rwandan francs was needed for legal aid to vulnerable people, and yet less than was available each year.
Narcisse Mupenzi, Community Justice Analyst/Senior Prosecutor at the Ministry of Justice, that the new funding will help reach grassroots citizens who have not had access to legal aid due to financial constraints.
“According to the constitution, all citizens have access to justice. Therefore, those who cannot afford the cost should be supported. The Ministry of Justice allocates a budget each year but it is limited. Funding will fill the void,” he said.
Mupenzi said some vulnerable people have no knowledge of the laws and need education to guide them in accessing justice.
“At least 95% of vulnerable people who need justice receive legal aid. However, we want to fill in all the gaps,” he said.
He said the priority cases include those of gender-based violence, women, children, land disputes, people with disabilities and other people belonging to the first and second categories of Ubudehe.
The project, unveiled on Tuesday April 5, which will be implemented by Legal Aid Forum (LAF) aims to improve access to justice and the well-being of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Kigali.
This is a collaboration with various civil society organizations (CSOs) providing free legal services in Kigali, the Rwanda Bar Association (RBA) and some leading law firms in Rwanda and clinics legal aid scholars in Rwanda.
Andrew Kananga, Executive Director of LAF, said lawyers and law students will contribute in various ways to strengthening the rule of law, access to justice and eradicating poverty by providing assistance legal pro bono.
“In the suburbs of the city of Kigali, there are vulnerable people who cannot afford lawyers when they take their cases to court. The minimum cost is 500,000 Frw. We have now signed with the Rwanda Bar Association (RBA) on how the lawyers will intervene. Support also guides people on how to handle cases without necessarily going to court. This includes counselling, mediation and other approaches,” he said.
He said more than 600 vulnerable people are expected to receive legal aid by 2024.
Meanwhile, through other interventions, so far 125,571 indigent and vulnerable people have been supported by civil society organizations to provide legal aid.
Lawyer Johnson Kabera, who heads the Rwanda Bar Association’s commission to provide legal aid to vulnerable people, said each lawyer has pledged to help at least one vulnerable person access justice through year.
The association has more than 1,300 members.
“In a year and a half, we have accompanied between 10,000 and 20,000 vulnerable people,” he said.
Lobbying for a legal aid fund
Meanwhile, lawyers say the lack of a state-funded legal aid fund continues to deprive many poor Rwandans of the chance to be heard.
On the other hand, the government insists that the money to finance such a fund would require billions which it does not have easily.
In 2018, the government withdrew the legal aid bill from parliament before it was tabled.
Explaining the reversal, then-Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said the bill was recalled because some sections needed to be revised, pointing out that the problems were related to budget constraints.
Busingye said that upon further review, it was realized that more than one billion Rwandan francs would be needed to fund cases that would fall under the legal aid tranche if the law were passed, but that the government cannot afford it.