April 13, 2024

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Kenya and Rwanda win Commonwealth Access to Justice Innovation Awards

Ground-breaking government initiatives from Kenya and Rwanda have won the inaugural Commonwealth Access to Justice Innovation Awards for improving access to legal services for vulnerable people.

The winners were announced at an award ceremony hosted in Zanzibar on 7 March 2024 on the margins of the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting

The awards recognise exceptional government initiatives that utilise innovation to provide meaningful access to justice for the most vulnerable and help achieve Sustainable Development Goal target 16.3 of ensuring equal justice for all.

Winners

Rwanda’s Ministry of Justice won two awards. The first award recognised its Abunzi (Mediators) Committee Project. Set up in 2004, the project draws upon traditional methods of conflict resolution to settle disputes at the grassroots level to foster community cohesion.

The Ministry’s integrated electronic case management system received the second award. Launched in 2016, the system streamlines judicial processes through automation and facilitates seamless information sharing among institutions, ultimately fast-tracking justice delivery.

Kenya’s Office of the Registrar Magistrates Courts received an award for its small claims court, established as part of the country’s vision of ‘Social Transformation through Access to Justice’.

The court offers people a simpler, faster, and cheaper substitute for resolving claims valued at up to 1 million Kenyan shillings (about US $6,950). In the past three years, the court has resolved more than 50,000 cases.

‘Be the difference’

Announcing the winners, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, said:

“The need to address the formidable challenges of access to justice cannot be overstated. We can only rise to the challenges by unleashing our knowledge, ingenuity and imagination. Those being awarded today reinforce our faith in our ability to be the difference we want to see in the world.”

She commended Rwanda and Kenya for their innovative work on promoting access to justice for all.

The Secretary-General added:

“Their innovative spirit has been channelled into initiatives which are positively impacting millions of people and have set a shining example for all countries.

“These initiatives demonstrate how legal support can be made more affordable and more accessible to people as well as more responsive to meeting their diverse needs, ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Entries were submitted by government ministers and departments from across the Commonwealth.

A jury of retired judges, former attorneys general, and non-profit executives assessed the entries based on creativity, impact, and potential for long-term change.

Receiving the award, Rwanda’s Justice Minister and Attorney General, Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, said:

“When we do this innovation, it is because we want as many people as possible to have access to justice and have appropriate means of resolving disputes. Technology has helped us achieve that and being awarded is just a bonus.”

A Kenyan official, who accepted the award, spoke about the significant impact of the small claims court, which has reduced the time spent on minor disputes from 10 years to under three months.

Pro Bono Heroes  

In addition to the country awards, Patricia Scotland announced two winners of the inaugural Secretary-General’s Pro Bono Heroes Awards.

The first winner of the Secretary-General’s Pro Bono Heroes Award was Ugandan non-profit Barefoot Law. It was recognised for making use of technology to provide free legal support and information to about one million people.

The other award went to a pan-Commonwealth team, led by Australian expert Loretta Joseph, for its interdisciplinary work on developing a legal framework for virtual assets.

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