In November, Moise Nkundabarashi, (a partner at Trust Law Chambers) was elected the new president of the Rwanda Bar Association, succeeding Julien Kavarunganda who held the position for two consecutive terms.
Nkundabarashi is not new to the headlines as he was involved in a petition against the Supreme Court in 2018, represented Callixte Nsabimana alias 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 association’s new president and the face of the legal fraternity, what do you see as the main tasks ahead of you?
We want to improve legal practice by promoting professionalism. We have a bar that was created in 1997 and had 35 members at the time. The number has since grown to 1,515 lawyers. The Law Society has a mandate to ensure that they maintain their professionalism and competence.
One of our plans is to digitize and create tools to reach them and ensure they easily access 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 female 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 such as attorneys pension and general welfare. We have a medical regimen that works but we want to continue to engage 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 in a commercial way, 1515 people organized in an ideal way can engage and trade like a market. For example, if we go to the same phone company or gas station, we may impact the bottom line and be able to negotiate a discount as an association. The same case if we negotiate car purchase prices among others. We can arrange for lawyers to have access to subsidized rates.
We recently acquired the Sports View Hotel in Remera, a bank loan which we repaid in around 5 years compared to the planned 15 years. These investments will help us improve the livelihoods of lawyers.
There are also a few challenges ahead of you, which one do you find most pressing?
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 law system. law. However, it is a bit complex as opposed to a systemic problem. A portion of market participants do not wish to open their markets through trade for various reasons.
What is happening now is that we are delaying legalization, but it is already happening.
For example, I have friends all over the region who can send me work to Kigali and vice versa. We are overtaken by trends and lagging behind bureaucracies. All that is missing is the right of establishment to settle in another country. We are also seeing another movement where regional law firms are opening 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 the EALA is tabling a bill on the mutual recognition of the practice of law, this is one of the aspects that I look forward to following.
Speaking of mutual recognition, it has been argued that it could also be 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 proficiency is probably language or 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 the skill 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 creates it, independent in practice, financing and economic aspects. We increase our budget from the contribution of members and use it to manage activities such as investment, health insurance, among others.
In legal practice, I will give an example of a recent case where a Belgian lawyer tried to enter Rwandan courts without accreditation. Whenever a lawyer comes from another country and wishes to practice, he must request accreditation from the Bar of Rwanda issued by the president of the association. One of the aspects taken into account is reciprocity. In this case, we wrote to them and asked if a Rwandan can practice in a Belgian court. The response 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 returned to Brussels. After a few months he landed 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 done through the election of members
For many, you came to light when you were involved in a petition against the Supreme Court challenging five provisions of the Penal Code which included the criminalization of adultery and publications which humiliate public officials, among other articles. What impact do you think this had and are we likely to see more of it in the future?
When we took the initiative to challenge the Penal Code in the Supreme Court, we thought it was high time to act in the public interest. It is important to consider the overall public interest and litigate such cases. There is an impact, for example, there were people who were not prosecuted because of the petition and started a conversation about how people view the law. It is something that has an impact. After that there were many petitions to the Supreme Court afterwards and a major development was a decision that lawyers can come to the Supreme Court without having to justify their personal interest in the cases as they are considered as stakeholders and knowledgeable about the issue.
We are going to see this more in the interest of the public in a positive approach by ensuring that it has a positive impact.
You also hit the headlines representing Callixte Nsabimana alias Sankara, a former FLN spokesperson convicted of acts of terrorism. How did you come to portray it?
It is a principle of our constitution that anyone who goes through legal proceedings has the right to be represented by a lawyer of his choice. This has been a frequently asked question. For someone who is accused of crimes like my client was, can you imagine him not being represented?
If you followed the case and the arguments, he was someone who was coming back into the company. However, this is not the only aspect to consider. The constitution gives us the right to represent people with legal processes. I did an assessment on the matter, reviewed his file and saw no reason not to as he was entitled to due process. The only body that would decide the verdict was the court, which could only intervene at the end of the trial.
We should all make sure that the court process goes as it should. He had 16 counts presented by the prosecution, he finished the process with 5 offences. While the type of major sentence is life imprisonment, he received 20 years. That’s due process, that’s how a judicial process works.
Rwanda is a legal country, which means we have to go through processes. This process requires suspects to be represented by a lawyer. This is my understanding of my profession and interpretation of the constitution.
Who is Moses 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 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 obtained a post-graduate diploma in legal practice at ILPD. From 2014, when I joined Trust Law Chambers, I became a member of the East African Law Society. In 2016, I was elected by the Rwanda Bar Association to be a board member. I then served from then until now on the board, as secretary of the Rwanda Bar Association.
I also happened to be part of the team that prepared the report “A predictable genocide in Rwanda and the role of France” also known as the Muse Report. On November 12, I was elected President of the Bar.