The statistics show that there are currently 318 judges and 235 registrars nationwide. This number is significantly lower than the volume of cases, and it has, in some ways, led to case backlogs and prolonged trial durations.
According to Harrison Mutabazi, the spokesperson for the court, despite a slight increase in the number of judges and registrars since 2004, the backlog continues to rise.
For instance, the cases increased from 37,116 in 2005 to 91,381 in 2022. This means that, on average, a judge has to handle 49 cases per month.
Speaking on the reasons behind the shortage, he noted that some judges retire, others resign, where most of them do not specify their reasons for leaving.
However, “through our analysis, it appears that a significant portion of them find employment elsewhere. This suggests that it may be a matter of changing employment, possibly driven by the allure of better fringe benefits,” he said.
Mutabazi also added that another issue is the pace at which the recruitment is done which causes a shortage of Court staff.
“The number of those recruited into the system is below the workload (backlogs),” he said.
He pointed out that the shortage of staff is not limited to the courts but extends to other institutions such as prosecution and investigation bodies. He emphasized the urgent need to increase the number of court staff, highlighting that they are responsible for handling a wide range of tasks.
During the launch of the Judicial year 2023-2024 that took place on September 4, the president of the Rwanda Bar Association (RBA), Moise Nkundabarashi, raised similar concerns, highlighting that the shortage of court officials and essential court materials could impede the timely delivery of justice. Therefore, it is vital that the responsible institutions take urgent action to address these issues.
He noted that the report shows that cases in intermediate courts take at least 37 months.
However, speaking at the same occasion, the Minister of Justice, Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, commented on the shortage of judges saying that the recruitment process for judges takes a long time but alleviated concerns by stating that this should not be a challenge as their strategies in place to ensure quality justice is delivered.
He added that despite the shortage, the number of resolved cases has continued to increase arguing that this is because the judicial sector is cautious about rushing cases and committed to resolving them effectively.
He pointed out that various measures are being used while others are still under evaluation to handle the case timely and ensure fair justice despite the shortage of staff.
These measures include increasing the number of staff, enhancing the use of technology in the sector to improve the efficiency of the existing workforce, amending the laws governing trials to allow the parties involved more time to resolve their issues outside of the courts, and strengthening mediation and plea-bargaining, among other strategies.
Ugirashebuja emphasized that the ministry will continue to thrive in delivering timely justice, highlighting its crucial role in the country’s life, security, and development.