BUJUMBURA May 30th (ABP) – About 1,600 people benefited from free legal aid in 2017 in ten provinces with UNDP support, according to Christella Kankindi, an adviser at the Office of the Minister of Justice, in charge of coordinating legal aid activities, who states that other 2,000 will benefit from it this year with the support of the same partner.
The ten provinces of UNDP intervention in legal aid are Kirundo, Muyinga, Kayanza, Ngozi, Gitega, Rutana, Makamba, Bururi, Rumonge and Bujumbura Mairie.
According to Article 210 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, some categories of persons are automatically recognized as vulnerable and must be assisted by a lawyer, on pain of nullity of procedure.A budget line from the Ministry of Justice, Civil Protection and Seals Control allows intervention in provinces not covered by UNDP such as Ruyigi, Cankuzo, Cibitoke, Mwaro, Muramvya even if all applicants are not served. The NGO “Lawyers without Borders” intervenes in the Bubanza and Karusi Provinces, while the NCR Justice & Democracy intervenes in the Mwaro, Muramvya and Bururi Provinces. The NGO Cordaid supports the improvement of access to justice.
These are persons prosecuted for offenses punishable by criminal servitude of 20 years and over, minors in conflict with the law, and defendants with a mental disability. In this category are added the victims of rape or gender-based violence, the victims of the serious crimes, as well as the minor victims. Refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, displaced persons, widows, orphans and those with indigence certificates are also classified as vulnerable and needy.
The main challenges that impede the effective access of the people to justice in Burundi are the ignorance of the law by a large majority of the Burundians, the systematic lack of legal assistance, a small number of lawyers installed in provinces, the challenges of household economics, and inefficient coordination of legal aid providers, according to several studies related to access to justice.
Access to justice is a priority for the ministry, said Ms. Kankindi, noting that this is visible in the sectoral policy of the Ministry of Justice from 2016 to 2020. Several activities are planned to make this right effective, she said, stating that most of them were realized even if a long step remains to be crossed.
The national strategy for legal aid in Burundi, which the popularization began last week, was developed and validated last April, Kankindi said, noting that counsels in chambers are provided free of charge to vulnerable and needy people. In addition, the guide for users of public services of justice was developed and translated into the national language (Kirundi), and awareness-raising sessions on the different legal proceedings reached 3,500 people in 2017. Other information and awareness-raising will be organized this year.
Legal aid commissions to the courts have been set up to analyze the eligibility criteria for free legal aid. They are composed by court staff that can be supplemented by other providers of equal assistance.
According to Ms. Kankindi, legal aid has had positive impacts in reducing court proceedings. Among the reasons for surrender is the non-attendance of witnesses and the absence of findings in the cases. With the support of the lawyers, it was easy to put the cases in order, which advances the judicial procedures.
The work of the lawyers is satisfactory, and the beneficiaries of the legal aid appreciate it even if there are still a lot of challenges, according to Ms. Kankindi. Evaluation workshops held this month of May on the implementation of legal aid activities for the 2017 period revealed that few lawyers reside in the provinces. The distant provenance of lawyers influences their diligence, and some lawyers do not put the findings on cases.
As effective measures, it is proposed to the Bar associations to assign lawyers to the courts. According to articles 55 and 56 governing the legal profession in Burundi, the Dar associations have the obligation to assign lawyers automatically to assist vulnerable and needy persons in cases that require compulsory legal assistance. It is the responsibility of the courts to cooperate with the Bars.
“We can congratulate ourselves even if there is still a step in the direction of improving access to justice for the Burundian citizens,” said Ms. Kankindi. The Ministry of Justice has strengthened the coordination of the providers involved in the field. Judicial assistance committees have been set up at the level of the courts to deliberate on the granting of legal assistance in order to avoid a lack of coordination.