Using ICTs for citizen feedback on legal services in Rwanda

Methodology

LEARNING:

A key gap in almost all justice systems worldwide is obtaining data on the quality, effectiveness and user perception of justice services. This represents a major gap in ensuring justice sector policy is evidence based and responsive to the needs of the citizens. Through an innovative ICT-enhanced citizen monitoring approach in Rwanda, Richard Kananga explains how Oxfam is working with the Legal Aid Forum (LAF) to empower citizens to provide feedback on how people experience justice services.

The aim of the “Citizen Monitoring of the Justice Sector in Rwanda” project is to increase the responsiveness of Rwanda’s justice service providers towards the concerns of citizens, especially women, about the provision of justice services. By empowering citizens to provide real-time feedback on the quality of justice services through an innovative ICT platform, Oxfam and the Legal Aid Forum seek to build the capacity of civil society to shape justice sector policy and facilitate increased citizen voice in the development and reform of justice sector policies and
practices.

Activities so far have included training and initiating 30 selected paralegals and 6 call centre operators to collect survey feedback on issues affecting citizens’ access to justice through a carefully designed questionnaire. The paralegals are using tablets and mobile data collection tools in the field (Survey CTO), while call centre operators have telephoned recipients of legal aid and submitted results through their computers. Radio has been used for outreach and there are plans for an SMS line (to arrange a call back) and roll out of a contact records management
system. 

Between September 2015 and January 2016, over 1,000 respondents have been surveyed. 29% of respondents are men, and 71% are women. While women make up a little more than half of the population, they make up a disproportionately high portion of people requiring legal aid in Rwanda. The data from the survey resulted in a report summarising recommendations to different stakeholders in the Justice Sector in the categories of: awareness of rights, access to justice and enforcements of judgements. While women make up a little more than half of the
population, they make up a disproportionately high portion of people requiring legal aid in Rwanda. 

Awareness of rights

Released to coincide with Legal Aid Week in April 2016, the report revealed that while there was a high satisfaction with those who had accessed Ministry of Justice services (90% of respondents declared that they were very satisfied/satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the services provided by the Ministry of Justice); 44% declared that they had never heard of the Ministry of Justice indicating general lack of awareness of laws. This led to the recommendation that Government entities, authorities and non state legal providers
should improve their efforts to perform in-person outreach to communities throughout Rwanda to raise awareness about the legal aid services. Another idea is that miniature libraries should be established at the sector level to provide citizens with access to books and/or journals on laws. 

Access to justice 

The report uncovered significant barriers for citizens accessing justice systems, including travel to legal aid providers, cost and documentation. 60% of respondents had to travel one hour to five hours or more to reach a legal aid provider they specifically requested. Approximately 40% of respondents travel one hour or less on foot to reach their requested legal aid provider. In the Rwandan context, one hour of walking does not represent an unreasonable amount of time to reach services. 

60% of respondents had to travel one hour to five hours or more to reach a legal aid provider 

Civil cases involving property and land disputes are the most common (30%) types of cases reported by those surveyed and the most expensive for respondents to pursue. Nationally, respondents spent an average of 434,695 RWF ($550) pursuing land disputes and 540,132 RWF ($680) pursing property disputes. A particular issue is documentation needed to access legal aid, such as certificates of indigence – from the 382 individuals surveyed who applied for one, approximately 15.7% encountered problems obtaining them.

Recommendations from the Legal Aid Forum (LAF) include additional support in the form of access to transportation in order to be able to reach the communities legal aid providers serve (albeit not clear how plausible this will be), and a legal aid provider review of client intake procedures to reduce the average amount of time clients have to wait between initially making contact with the organization and meeting with a staff member or an advocate. Furthermore, Executive Secretaries should be authorized to issue certificates of indigence to be used only to receive legal aid
services. 

Enforcement of judgments

The timely execution of court judgments is important to maintaining citizen confidence in the justice system and providing access to justice 41% of respondents have had to request the enforcement of a court judgment. Once initiated, cases were resolved after an average of 594 days. LAF recommend a policy document should be produced on the procedures to be followed regarding the enforcement of judgments. The document should simplify the law currently in place and make it more accessible to Executive Secretaries and other local authorities. 

The results of this study show that citizens are largely appreciative of the legal aid services they receive from the courts, non-state legal aid providers and the authorities. This study is still in its early stages, but initial data suggests that citizen access to justice would be increased with increased efforts to sensitize citizens about the laws that affect them and the legal aid providers who offer services to them. At this stage, the data indicates that there is room for improvement in the areas of availability and accessibility of legal aid services. 

The study will be used as an evidence base as relevant justice stakeholders convene to ensure citizen’s are heard and establish improvements to processes. Furthermore there is interest in building on the ICT enabled parts of this project to enhance existing case tracking and referrals to legal aid providers. 

Read more

Read more blogs on ICT for development 

Visit the Legal Aid Forum website 

Photos credit: Oxfam 

Author: Richard Kanaga, Participatory Governance Lead

Author: Oxfam
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.