In November, Moise Nkundabarashi (partner of Trust Law Chambers) was elected the new president of the Rwanda Bar Association, succeeding Julien Kavarunganda who served for two consecutive terms.
Nkundabarashi is not new to the headlines as he was involved in a 2018 Supreme Court petition, represented Callixte Nsabimana aka Sankara in a recent trial, and was part of the team that prepared the Muse report .
In an interview with Collins Mwai of the New Times, Moise Nkundabarashi
As the new president of the association and muse of the legal fraternity, what do you think are the key missions that await you?
We wish to improve legal practice by promoting professionalism. We have a bar that was created in 1997 and then had 35 members. The number has since grown to 1,515 lawyers. The mandate of the Bar Association is to ensure that professionalism and competence are maintained.
One of our plans is to digitize and create tools to reach them and make sure they have easy access to services.
We would like to expand the cooperation we have with other bar associations to deepen the links to access training and capacity building.
We have women lawyers in our association and want to make sure we have fairness and equality. We also have young lawyers who will need support and mentorship.
We also have plans for programs like lawyers’ pensions and general social assistance. We have a working medical regimen, but we want to continue to be engaged to make sure we can further improve their well-being. If your well-being is well taken care of, you are less likely to get involved in sneaky activities. .
We also want to approach commercially, 1515 ideally organized people can engage and negotiate as a market. For example, if we go to the same phone company or the same gas station, we may have an impact on the bottom line and be able to negotiate a discount as an association. Even if we are negotiating for car purchase prices, among other things. We can ensure that lawyers have access to subsidized prices.
We recently acquired the Sports View Hotel in Remera, a bank loan that we repaid in about 5 years against 15 years planned. These investments will help us improve the livelihoods of lawyers.
There are also a few challenges ahead, which do you find the most urgent?
One of the challenges that comes to mind is mutual recognition. We have a challenge because of the challenge of the systems we come from, countries like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania would assume that we come from a civil law system that is not allowed to practice in a common system. law. However, it is a bit complex as opposed to a systemic problem. Some market players do not wish to open their markets to trade for various reasons.
What is happening now is that we are slow to make it legal, but it is already happening.
For example, I have friends all over the region who can send me work in Kigali and vice versa. We are overwhelmed by trends and lagging behind bureaucracies. All that is missing is the right of establishment to move to another country. We are also seeing another movement where regional law firms are opening up in different countries and using local lawyers. Can this be qualified as a cross-border legal practice? Yes it is.
In any case, I know that EALA is tabling a bill on the mutual recognition of legal practices, this is one of the aspects on which I am eager to follow up.
Speaking of mutual recognition, it was argued that this could also mean a perception of skill levels. Are your members qualified to practice anywhere in the region?
I don’t think we have a jurisdictional problem. If the market opened up, things would move forward and the skills of practitioners could adapt to the market. What would be considered limited skill is probably the language where if you have a lawyer from Kigali moved to Kampala or Nairobi where they have to practice in English as opposed to the Kinyarwanda they are used to.
However, there is no doubt that they would adapt to the language, but proficiency would not be a problem. By opening up the market, that would be put to the test.
Let’s talk about independence. Is the Rwanda Bar Association independent in its decisions, principles and positions?
The Rwanda Bar Association is an independent organization. It is independent with regard to the law which establishes it, independent in practice, on financial and economic aspects. We increase our budget through membership fees and use it to manage activities such as investment, health insurance, among others.
In legal practice, I will give the example of a recent case where a Belgian lawyer tried to appear in Rwandan courts without accreditation. Whenever a lawyer comes from another country and wishes to practice, he must apply for accreditation from the Rwanda Bar Association given by the president of the association. One of the aspects considered is reciprocity. In this case, we wrote to them and asked them if a Rwandan can practice in a Belgian court. The answer was that only lawyers from the EU region can practice in Belgium. With this answer, we gave the appropriate answer to the lawyer and he flew to Brussels. After a few months he came back and tried to train.
Our independence lies in the fact that we have principles, procedures and conditions of engagement.
You can also gain independence through leadership which is through the election of members
For many, you rose to fame when you were embroiled in a Supreme Court petition challenging five Criminal Code provisions that included the criminalization of adultery and publications that humiliate public officials, among other articles. What impact do you think this has had and are we likely to see more in the future?
When we took the initiative to challenge the penal code in the Supreme Court, we thought it was high time we did something in the public interest. It is important to consider the general public interest and to advocate such cases. There is an impact, for example, there have been people who were not prosecuted because of the petition and who started a conversation about how people perceive the law. It’s something that has an impact. After that there were many Supreme Court petitions after that and a major development was a ruling that lawyers can appear before the Supreme Court without having to justify their personal interest in cases as they are considered as stakeholders and well informed in the matter.
We will see this more in the public interest in a positive approach ensuring that it has a positive impact.
You also hit the headlines by representing Callixte Nsabimana alias Sankara, a former spokesperson for the FLN convicted of acts of terrorism. How did you come to represent him?
It is a principle of our constitution that anyone involved in legal proceedings has the right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice. This has been a frequently asked question. For someone who is charged with crimes like my client was, can you imagine that he has no representation?
If you were following the case and the arguments, it was someone who was coming back into society. This is not the only aspect to consider, however. The constitution gives us the right to represent people in court processes. I assessed the matter, reviewed his file and saw no reason not to do so as he was entitled to due process. The only body that would decide with the verdict was the court, which could only intervene at the end of the process.
We should all see that the legal process is going as it should. He had 16 charges presented by the prosecution, he completed the process with 5 offenses. Although the type of major sentence is life imprisonment, he was sentenced to 20 years. This is due process, this is how a court process works.
Rwanda is a legal country, which means we have to go through processes. This process requires that suspects are represented by legal counsel. It is my understanding of my profession and the interpretation of the constitution.
Who is Moise Nkundabarashi?
I am Rwandan by nationality, born in May 1981 in Burundi where my parents were refugees. Right after the genocide against the Tutsi, we returned to Rwanda where I continued primary school and later secondary school.
I went to the University of Rwanda in Butare between 2005 and 2008. When I left I joined the Rwanda Bar Association in 2010 and started working as an independent lawyer and after 4 Years ago in 2014, I was approached by Trust Law Chambers and they offered me an opportunity to be a partner in the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department.
In 2017, I did a graduate degree in legal practice at ILPD. From 2014, when I joined Trust Law Chambers, I became a member of the East African Bar. In 2016, I was elected by the Rwanda Bar Association to be a member of the board. I then served from then until now in the council, as secretary of the Rwanda Bar Association.
I also happened to be part of the team that prepared the report “A foreseeable genocide in Rwanda and the role of France” also known as the Muse Report. On November 12, I was elected President of the Bar.