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Rwanda: Supreme Court to Undertake Major Procedural Reforms

(Oct. 30, 2009) It was reported on October 26, 2009, that the Rwandan Ministry of Justice proposed a bill to the Parliament on what type of cases may be brought before the country's Supreme Court. During the presentation, Tharcise Karugarama, the Justice Minister, told Parliament that the bill was necessitated in order to find a solution to the congestion in the Court, which has 43,000 cases currently awaiting resolution. (Emmanuel R. Karake & Innocent Niyonshuti, Supreme Court Undergoes Reforms, THE NEW TIMES, Oct. 26, 2009, available at

In the current form of the bill, the Court, which currently hears appeals against sentences of ten years or more of imprisonment, would only hear appeals against life sentences. The bill also prescribes that for commercial disputes, instead of hearing cases that involve a minimum of RWF20 million (about US$35,174), the Court would hear only those in which RWF50 million (about US$87,935) or more is at stake. (Id.)

The bill provides that decisions of the Court will be binding on all lower courts and introduces the principle of stare decisis (a legal doctrine that provides that when a point has been settled by a decision, it forms a precedent that is not afterwards to be set aside), which will make courts be bound by their own previous decisions. (Id.) This is in keeping with Rwanda's preparations to switch its legal tradition to common law, as part of its commitment to the East African Community (EAC). The EAC is in the process of having its members unify their legal systems in order to transform itself into a political federation. (See Hanibal Goitom, Burundi/Rwanda: Possible Switch of Legal Tradition, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR, June 4, 2009, available at