2019 stood out remarkably as a year with such a high number of successful petitions against national laws.
In one year alone, three different laws were petitioned against by citizens (mainly lawyers) and as a result, the Supreme Court ended up changing several clauses or paragraphs.
The story began in April this year when the Supreme Court invalidated articles in the penal law criminalising defamation of national leaders and persons in charge of public service.
The ruling was in response to a case filed by city lawyer, Richard Mugisha, challenging some of the provisions in the law that had gone into force in August 2018.
Mugisha challenged the law’s provisions that criminalised defamation and humiliation of public officials on duty and public defamation of religious rituals, and the court would later rule that these provisions were against freedom of expression and press freedom granted by the constitution, thus ordering their removal from the law.
However, the Supreme Court left an exception for the president, where defaming him is still criminal.
In the aftermath of the ruling, a statement from the president’s office took issue with the decision, saying that the president is also a public official. He, however, said he respects the independence of the judiciary.
Later in the year, the country witnessed two other laws changed – again as a result of citizens’ petitions.
In November, responding to a petition made by lawyer Edward Murangwa, the Supreme Court nullified article 19 of the law determining the sources of revenue and property in decentralised entities.
The article was setting an additional tax of 50 per cent on a plot which the owner legitimately got after the law was enacted.
Later in December, as a result of a petition by Certa Law firm, the Supreme Court also ordered changes in the 2018 penal law concerning defilement.
Certa Law had challenged the law in question saying it denied judges their constitutional powers of discretion because it did not allow them to look at mitigating factors when giving penalties to the convicted.
In its verdict delivered, the Supreme Court declared a clause in Article 133.3 of the 2018 Penal law as unconstitutional.
The clause stated that “if child defilement is followed by cohabitation as husband and wife, the penalty is life imprisonment that cannot be mitigated by any circumstances.”
Former Chief Justice Sam Rugege who presided over the trial said the bench agreed with the petitioner, that the provision limits judges from exercising their constitutionally bestowed powers to adjudicate cases independently.
Among other key highlights, 2019 has seen a number of big criminals apprehended and presented to justice.
Among these is Callixte Nsabimana, the former spokesperson of FLN, an anti-Rwanda terror group operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is blamed for terror attacks on Rwandan territory in which people lost lives, especially in areas around Nyungwe National Park.
2019 also saw former Chief Justice Professor Sam Rugege complete his eight-year tenure in office.
He was replaced by Faustin Ntezilyayo, who was a former Judge at the East African Court of Justice, a visiting lecturer of law at the University of Rwanda, School of Law and the Director of the Centre for Trade and Investment Law and Policy.
Still, on a remarkable note, results of a DNA exam done in Rwanda were used to make a Supreme Court verdict concerning a genocide survivor.
In the ruling that took place in November, the Supreme Court granted 27-year-old Yves Tuyishimire paternity to his father who was killed during the Genocide against the Tutsi.
The peculiar case required taking DNA samples from a person deceased 25 years ago, in order to resolve the paternity row that had for about five years been contested at different court levels.