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Legal Week Student Supplement Article

22 March 2012 

The College of Law and its role in developing legal education in Rwanda


I am an Associate Professor and Head of Dispute Resolution at the College of Law of England and Wales (‘the College’). The College, as a centre for professional legal education in the UK and internationally, has been providing assistance to Rwanda’s centre for professional legal education, the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (‘ILPD’) as part of its corporate social responsibility programme. I first visited ILPD in 2010 on a fact finding mission and returned there to teach as a visiting lecturer on their equivalent of the legal practice course for 2 weeks in December 2011. This article will detail my experiences and highlight the role of ILPD in rebuilding and strengthening the rule of law in Rwanda.

A very short history of Rwanda

Like most first time visitors to Rwanda visit, prior to setting out I knew only two things. That it had suffered an appalling genocide and has some outstanding wildlife including the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. As you will see both of these had a role to play in informing my experience of Rwanda.

The 1994 genocide has had a defining influence in the rebuilding of the Rwandan legal system, as it left the country with an extreme shortage of trained legal personnel as many of the country’s lawyers and judges had either perished during the genocide or fled as refugees into neighbouring countries.

The post genocide government of President Paul Kagame resolved to strengthen the justice sector and the rule of law, establishing ILPD in 2006 to provide professional skills based legal training to the justice sector in Rwanda. 

The challenges facing legal education and the development of the legal sector in Rwanda

I outline below 3 of the key challenges facing the development of professional legal education, which I experienced in my role as a visiting lecturer at ILPD.

Switching over from French to English

In 2009 Rwanda joined the Commonwealth and resolved to make English the official language of law and business. This contrasted with the pre 1994 position where business was largely transacted in French as a result of Rwanda having been a Belgian colony prior to independence.

This poses a problem for teaching at ILPD. Although each day begins with compulsory tuition in written and spoken English from 7-9 am, some of the students do not yet have the necessary level of fluency to be taught solely in English. This is particularly the case with those who are older and/or spent time in exile before the genocide in Burundi or the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are Rwanda’s two Francophone neighbours.

Hence, although I taught students primarily in English, I would summarise and answer questions where necessary in French. This is not always straightforward as, leaving aside the well known problem of false friends such as the French word societe, meaning limited company rather than society in its legal context, not all terms readily translate. As can be seen below, this is particularly the case with concepts, such as examination in chief and cross examination, which are closely associated with the common law and therefore the English speaking world.

Embracing the diversity of the student population

ILPD was the first professional law school in Rwanda. On its establishment the Rwandan government took the decision that ILPD’s mission should be to train all lawyers and to prioritise the retrospective training those who were already practising as well as admitting recent University graduates. As a result of this decision the ILPD student population encompasses all of the principal functions across the justice sector- judge, prosecutor and advocate- and consequently varies widely in age and experience.

My class, for example, contained lawyers in private practice in their 20’s who had recently graduated from University law degrees, through Prosecutors in their thirties, to judges in their forties and fifties. To make matters more interesting many of the older students had done much of their academic, and in some cases, some vocational training, in neighbouring countries, such as Uganda, Kenya, DRC, Tanzania and Burundi where they had spent time in exile.

ILPD currently offers a diploma in legal practice, comprising 9 modules. All modules are compulsory and the students are taught in the same class irrespective of their actual or intended specialism. As you will recognise this is very different to the position in the UK where there is a clear divide between vocational legal training which students are required to complete before starting practice and the CPD courses which practising lawyers are required to attend in order to maintain their registration. In the case of the latter lawyers, judges and prosecutors would invariably attend separate dedicated programmes.

This diversity provides students with fantastic opportunities for learning from their peers. For example, I taught a professional ethics module where students could examine and test principles of professional conduct in the context of the justice sector as a whole, rather than focusing on their particular branch of the profession as tends to happen within the UK.

Combining different legal traditions

The Government’s stated desire is to blend the best aspects of the common law with the traditional Rwandan civil law system. This is with a view to developing a strong hybrid system as well as facilitating the integration of the Rwandan legal system into the East African Community.

Presenting common law concepts, such as the doctrine of precedent and the adversarial system of advocacy, to civil lawyers presents a significant educational challenge to both students and the teacher alike, as it tends to involve asking the civilian lawyer to rethink any number of basic concepts, some of which, as discussed above, are not readily translatable between English and French.

For example, to assist students in their understanding of how common lawyers approach evidence at trial, I participated in a demonstration of an advocate cross- examining a witness at trial with a view to attacking the witness’s credibility. The demonstration sought to emphasise the interplay between the cross-examining advocate and the witness as well as the witness’s evident unease when forced to admit that some of her evidence was untruthful. This is at odds with the current system in Rwanda where it is the judge rather than the advocate who asks questions of the witness and the general tenor of the questioning is to check over the evidence, much of which will have been presented by the advocates not the witness, rather than to assess the credibility of the witness.

What Rwanda taught me

Like many of the Victorian social anthropologists I returned from Rwanda a better teacher and a wiser man. Among the many lessons I learned I would single out the following.

Most things are achievable with hard work. Rwandans start work at 7am and have an incredible work ethic. Consequently students progress quickly.

Commuting has its challenges wherever you are. Rwandan roads are probably the best in Africa but the first and last 2km of my commute to work were on an unmade dirt road in the rainy season. Therefore, although I escaped the overcrowding of the tube, I very nearly had to be dug out of the mud by kindly locals on a number of occasions.

Don’t be over reliant on Powerpoint. In addition to the question of whether all concepts translate into a title and 4 bullet points, short term power outages can leave you stranded without a plan B.

Lastly it is true that baboons will take food if you leave it out. I was briefly trapped in a jeep in the Akagera game park with a hungry baboon who jumped in through the front window having sniffed out a sandwich left on the passenger seat. The baboon got his lunch and I was left shaken but not stirred.

Lastly and most importantly Rwanda is engaged in a fascinating project to transform its legal system. Changes such as the development of a set of rules governing court procedure, which took place incrementally over many years in England and Wales, are happening much faster in Rwanda driven on by the energy, hard work and impressive organisational skills of its people.


Professional legal education delivered by ILPD has played a key role in developing the justice sector post genocide and ensuring that judges, lawyers and prosecutors in Rwanda have the necessary skills and competencies to deliver justice within the new hybrid civil law/common law system. Demonstrating procedural laws and methods from different legal systems and thereby assisting those within the Rwandan justice sector to make the most appropriate choice for Rwandan justice is as much a part of its remit as explaining what the law is or should be. With its emphasis on practical student centred skills based training and fusing the civil and common law traditions ILPD has the potential to become a hub for legal training within the East African community.

I look forward to facilitating continued cooperation between the College and ILPD as part of this exciting project.

Dan Hill

Associate Professor

The College of Law of England and Wales



Recent comments

it's absolutely incredible to read your satisfactorily experiences that you gained from Rwanda. please, pass these useful knowledge to your students because it is always great to have diverse knowledge in legal systems. I would strongly recommend that there should be an opportunity for the College of Law students to undertake some training at ILPD Center whereby we can be able to appreciate different legal systems that could potentially guide us through our legal careers. Thanks you very much for sharing this wonderful experience and please continue doing so. all the best


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