This study was commissioned by the Legal Aid Forum, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice. It was intended to provide baseline data on the current practices and gaps in service provision, in order to inform the planning, programming, financing and regulation of legal aidservices with a view of realising the goal of improved access to justice. The study was funded by UNDP, DIHR and Norwegian People’s Aid.
Using qualitative and quantitative research methods data was collected from 130 respondents and forty focus group discussions, across the ten districts covered by the baseline survey. The ten districts were purposively selected from the five Provinces to ensure regional balance and a rural /urban spread. The main units of the study were legal aid providers (NGOs providing legal aid services) and private practitioners. To enrich the study, key informant interviews were conducted with people who were thought to have good knowledge of the coverage of legal aid services as well as the needs of indigent persons. These included prosecutors, judges, heads of NGOs not involved in the provision of legal aid services, prison administrators, local district administrative authorities and police commanders. Focus Group Discussions were held with local leaders and community members to identify legal aid needs across the country.
Excel and the Statistical Package for Social Scientist (SPSS) computer programmes were used to enter and analyse quantitative data, while all notes taken from KII and FGDS were analysed using thematic and content analysis approaches.
On the whole, the findings of this survey reveal a generally limited understanding of legal aid, specifically from the perspective of the ability to pay for legal services. This was found to affect providers’ ability to plan and deliver services that are affordable and accessible by indigent persons. Indeed many indigent persons and local leaders expressed ignorance of the laws and limited knowledge of the availability of legal aid services, even when such services existed in their respective districts. Consequently many would be beneficiaries are unable to access legal aid services because they do not understand the procedure or fear the court system.
Participants of Focus Group Discussions across all districts, felt that legal aid services were not accessible for a number of reasons: in rural districts there are no providers; in urban / semi-urban districts a significant number of people are not aware of the existence of services; or the services available are not sufficient in relation to the demand or the large geographic coverage of many districts.
Accessibility is also related to social and educational means and whether indigent persons feel they have the capacity to access legal services and understand the process and documentation presented. In addition participants of focus group discussions felt that legal aid services were not affordable by the majority of Rwandans. This was largely due to costs of transport required to reach the courts and the offices of legal aid providers, high court fees and unaffordable professional fees. An associated problem is the fact that most providers do not offer a complete cycle of legal aid services, hence the need for referral to other agencies. These factors combined affect the accessibility and affordability of legal aid services.
The main providers of legal aid services are NGOs, members of the Bar Association and University Law Clinics. Sixteen NGOs were found to be providing one or a combination of legal services, especially legal advice and education. Fewer were offering legal representation, largely due to the limitations of the Law on the Bar. Geographical coverage of legal aid services is limited with services being provided in 5 out 10 districts covered by the survey with all of legal aid providers located either in the two Kigali districts or in an urban district in one of the provinces.