The Rwandan legal system is based on Belgian and German civil codes and customary law.
The Judiciary as a branch of government
The Judiciary is an independent branch of Rwanda government separate from the legislature and executive branches of government and consists of magistrate’s courts, high courts, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. Judges for the High Court are appointed by the president; Judges for the Court of Appeal are appointed by the president and approved by the legislature. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court and other courts established by the Constitution and other laws. Courts apply orders and regulations only where they are not inconsistent with the Constitution and other laws.
The functions of the Judiciary are;
- To adjudicate civil and criminal cases
- To interpret the Constitution and the laws
- To promote human rights, social justice and morality
The Ministry of Justice (MINIJUST)
Ministry of Justice is responsible for promoting and facilitating the rule of law in the country by emphasizing equality of all persons before the law and ensuring that judicial institutions are effective and efficient in the provision of legal services to the public.
The functions of the ministry are as follows;
- Effects administration of Law and Justice as well as constitutional governance.
- Promotes adherence to the rule of law and natural justice.
- Advises the Government and its allied institutions on all legal matters.
- Provides legal representation to the Government and its allied institutions.
- Provides legal advice to all the institutions of the State.
- Represents the Government in disputes to which it’s a party at the national and International Level.
- Coordinates National Legislation.
- Coordinates donor activities in the Justice Sector.
Types of courts in Rwanda
Ordinary and Specialized Courts
Ordinary Courts in Rwanda are the Supreme Court, the High Court of the Republic, the Provincial Courts and the Court of the City of Kigali, the District Courts and the Municipality and Town courts.
Specialized courts are the Gacaca courts and Military courts. Gacaca Courts and the National Service for the follow-up of their activities.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. The decision of the Supreme Court are not be subject to appeal save in terms of petitions for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy or revision of a judicial decision. Its decisions are binding on all parties concerned whether such are organs of the State, public officials, civilians, military, judicial officers or private individuals.
The President and Vice-President of the Supreme Court are elected by the Senate for a single term of eight years by simple majority vote of members from two candidates in respect of each post proposed by the President of the Republic after consultation with the Cabinet and the Supreme Council of the Judiciary.
The High Court
It has jurisdiction to try serious offences committed in Rwanda as well as some offences committed outside Rwanda as specified by the law. The High Court performs the following;
- The High Court hears in the first instance cases relating to the violation of Articles 52, 53 and 54 of the Constitution committed by political organizations.
- It also has jurisdiction to hear in the first instance certain cases involving administrative law, political organizations, elections and such other cases as an organic law may determine.
- It hears as a court of last instance, appeals against decisions of lower courts as determined by law.
- It has specialized chambers which sit in different parts of the country as determined by law.
Intermediate Courts are defined in law N° 51/2008 and they are responsible for trying civil and criminal cases. They include a number of specialized chambers, some to provide judgments on cases involving minors and others to try administrative and social matters.
The other courts include the following;
- Provincial Court
- Court of the City of Kigali
- District Court
- Town Court
The specialized courts include the following;
Gacaca Courts are responsible for the trial and judgment of cases against persons accused of the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity which were committed between October 1st 1990 and December 31st 1994 with the exception of cases jurisdiction in respect of which is vested in other courts.
Military courts are part of the Military Justice System. The Courts comprise of the;
- Military Tribunal which tries in the first instance all offenses committed by military personnel irrespective of their rank.
- Military High Court that tries in the first instance all offences which constitute a threat to national security and murder committed by soldiers irrespective of rank. The Military High Court is an appellate court in respect of decisions rendered by the Military Tribunal.
Each Sector has a Mediation Committee which is responsible for mediating between parties to certain disputes involving matters determined by law prior to the filing of a case with the court of first instance. The Mediation Committee comprises of twelve residents of the sector who are persons of integrity and are acknowledged for their mediating skills.
They are elected by the Executive Committee and Councils of sectors from among persons who are not members of decentralized local government or judicial organs for a term of two years which may be extended.
ICT in the Judiciary
The Supreme Court and Judiciary are in the process of implementing an ICT based system with the aim of improving the speed at which decisions are made in the court systems. The ICT based system is in conformity with the National ICT Policy and the National Information Communication Infrastructure.