It goes without saying, there is something special happening in Rwanda. A country with a profound turning point in its history has turned adversity on its head. Rallying around a renewed unity and self-drive, development across all sectors is on an upward trajectory and the legal sector is aboard this flight.
Whilst rebuilding blocks started from scratch post-1994, in 2004, Rwanda embarked on a process of significant overhaul reforms in its judiciary system. A country that had inherited a civil law system from its colonial days sought out a new strategy: to build a legal system designed to suit the needs of its people. Some have called it a system in transition, some have called it a hybrid system, some insist on calling it a civil law system, however, it is probably best described by Chief Justice Sam Rugege, who writes, “We are not marred to any legal system. What we do is look around for best practices from other systems and integrate them to come up with our own.” The reality confirms the same; court litigation in criminal cases continues to take on mostly civil law process, whilst commercial courts tend to adopt a more common law approach in a bid to ease and harmonise the commercial globalisation approach Rwanda is taking on. The common law doctrine of stare decisis for example, is one being implemented today, a prime example of carefully selecting aspects of different systems to form a system that would work best for Rwanda.
From Gacaca courts to reformation of court structures and more recently, the implementation of an Integrated Electronic Case Management System(IECMS) which essentially enables the submission of cases and follow up 24/7, follows a vibrant string of reforms undertaken since 2004. Significantly on the road to advocacy, was the formation of the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD) as established by the Law No. 65/2013 0F 27/08/2013. The institution would harmonise, train and retrain, drawing on the diversity and richness of knowledge and experience of its members who came and come from both civil and common law traditions.
Upon completion of Bachelor of Laws (LLB), law graduates seeking to become advocates have to study and obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice at ILPD. The institution is the only accredited training centre for advocates in Rwanda. It is a pre-requisite to applying to be enrolled to the roll of advocates in Rwanda. The headquarters are located in Nyanza, Rwanda and hold two full time intakes a year. The first in-take is in January and runs through to mid-June, whilst the second intake starts subsequently for an equal six (6) months. Thereafter, students have to undertake a three (3) months internship or placement period (in any country of choice) that is monitored and evaluated to form a part of your diploma accreditation. There are exemptions available for the internship phase if a student has at least 2 years work experience within the field. These sessions continue to bring together students from numerous jurisdictions, with as many as 7 African nationalities in the last intake. Here, a breadth of knowledge, and experience is shared and taught, whilst building good networking opportunities.
The institution also has a part-time program in Kigali that runs for a year. This is for evenings and weekends to cater for those that work or have other commitments. Due to Rwanda’s history and the recent addition of the school as a pre-requisite, a short Executives program is in place for those with significant experience in the profession both home and abroad. Upon successfully completing one of these courses, a postgraduate diploma is awarded at a graduation ceremony. However, this does not automatically make one an advocate, but a lawyer. An advocate grants one the license to render legal representation before courts in Rwanda. To qualify as an advocate, requires application to the Rwanda Bar Association (RBA) upon successfully obtaining your Diploma in legal practice from ILPD.
Foreign advocates can also be enrolled in Rwanda as long as they satisfy pre-requisite criteria of RBA that can be found on their website. (http://www.rwandabar.org.rw/). Amongst these is a condition of reciprocity or in accordance with international agreements or treaties that Rwanda is a party to.
One final hurdle! It is not just an application. Prior to formation of the institution, law graduates had to complete two years of supervision under a senior advocate before undertaking a bar exam. Unfortunately, this bar exam still stands independent of the Postgraduate diploma. Applications are called for once a year, around August. There are requirements for admission that can be found on the RBA website both for Rwandans and Non-Rwandans. Successful selected applicants are given a date for one written exam and a subsequent oral exam.
Upon successful completion of the above, you are enrolled as an intern advocate for a period of one (1) year, after which, you qualify as an advocate capable of addressing all courts in Rwanda.
The opportunities in Rwanda are many, as development in multiple sectors continues. This reflexively opens up a wide range of possibilities for legal practitioners. The role of lawyers and advocates is increasingly integral both within private and public sectors. Additionally, the Kigali International Arbitration Center (KIAC) that is quickly becoming a hub for both local and international disputes to be resolved, has opened up the region to alternative dispute resolution processes that do not need to be exported to foreign institutions.
Hopefully, this article has been informative, feel free to ask or inquire if you have any further questions. All the best!
By Davis Mukyenga and Moses Nyanzi