Rwanda Launches Electronic Court System to Deliver Justice for All - By Maxwell Gomera

February 16, 2023

An inmate Carries out Online Hearing at the Nyarugenge Correctional Facility

Constantin Uwase

There are few things more heartbreaking than the unjust suffering of an innocent person, and the story of Emmanuel serves as a stark reminder of the devastating effects of an overwhelmed justice system.

Emmanuel was arrested in 2020 and accused of being associated with a group of criminals. Despite proclaiming his innocence, he was detained for two long years, including the pretrial period. Finally, in September 2022, Emmanuel was tried and convicted, only to be found innocent of all the crimes he was accused of, his two years of suffering, frustration, and strain on his family resulted from delayed justice.

Emmanuel's story is a clear example of the heartbreaking consequences of an overwhelmed court system. But today, as Rwanda launches the e-courts in correctional facilities, there is hope that no one else will suffer the same fate.

The e-courts are an initiative by the Government of Rwanda under the leadership of the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, and Rwanda Correctional Services. They couldn't have come at a more opportune time. The new e-courts will address the case backlogs, which currently stand at 54%, according to the 2022 Rwanda Governance Scorecard. But even more, the e-courts will contribute to increased transparency and the reduction of corruption by reducing physical contact with officials of the justice sector.

In a world led by technological innovations, where digitization and artificial intelligence are more utilized to address current and emerging challenges, e-courts are a prime example of this innovation, and the benefits of these systems are immense.

According to the Commissioner General of Rwanda Correctional Services, CGP Juvenal Marizamunda, "Drawing lessons from challenges faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, justice systems need to incorporate modern technologies such as e-courts (remote hearings) in their efforts to ensure access to justice. We believe e-courts can play a  critical role in building a modern justice system that guarantees  fair and timely outcomes."

In 2022 alone, 624 cases were tried virtually through e-courts, thanks to the available adequate equipment, including video conferencing equipment and computers and the building capacities of users. Last year, 8 video conference facilities and 103 laptops were acquired for e-court systems in correction facilities across the country.

Through this partnership, the Government of Rwanda is building a justice system that is fair, transparent, accountable and one that responds to the expectations of the people. E-court systems in correction facilities are just one part of this. The government will need to take e-courts beyond the correction facilities and bring them to the judiciary, the prosecution, and other relevant justice sector institutions.

The benefits of e-courts extend beyond the prison walls. They reduce waiting periods for cases to be tried, resulting in increased efficiency and decreased costs associated with physical appearances in court. Furthermore, e-courts reduce the risk of Covid-19 and other diseases transmission within prisons and improve transparency through virtual interaction, security data and security on inmates, and more.

Maxwell Gomera, the Head of UNDP in Rwanda, a significant partner in this initiative, highlights why this is critical: "An overwhelmed justice system affects all of us, especially families. The launch of the e-courts in correctional facilities in Rwanda is a significant step towards building a justice system that is fair and efficient for all."

The United Kingdom is a perfect example of how the e-court system has transformed its justice system. The UK launched its e-court system in 2015, which has since brought about numerous benefits, such as reducing the time it takes for cases to be processed and reducing the number of adjournments in court hearings. E-courts have also reduced the number of physical appearances in court, which has resulted in cost savings.

With the launch of the e-court system, Rwanda's justice system is on a path toward greater efficiency, transparency, and accountability. The promise of a brighter future for all citizens is within reach, and the hope is that the story of Emmanuel will no longer be a heartbreaking reality for anyone else.