Rwanda: Why Bar Association suspended nearly 100 lawyers

The suspensions, according to the Bar's president, Moïse Nkundabarashi, range from one month to one year, depending on the severity of the offense.

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The Rwanda Bar Association (RBA) has suspended 96 lawyers for various professional offenses, including failure to pay annual contributions on time.

The suspensions, according to the Bar's president, Moïse Nkundabarashi, range from one month to one year, depending on the severity of the offense.

The New Times has since learnt that 20 lawyers were suspended for one month, 1 was suspended for two months, 12 were suspended for three months and 8 were suspended for four months.

Others include 30 lawyers who were suspended for six months, 1 was suspended for eight months, 3 were suspended for nine months, while 21 were suspended for a year.

"There is a procedure that is followed before suspending a lawyer. It starts with the president filing a case before the disciplinary and ethics committee, then the lawyer is summoned and allowed to come in with his attorney to respect the right to defense," Nkundabarashi said.

"This is followed by a decision from the committee that is communicated to the lawyer and concerned organs because the suspended person is not allowed to practice anywhere during the suspension period," he added.

Suspended lawyers have a right to go to court and challenge the Bar's decision and according to Nkundabarashi, although none of the 96 has challenged the decision, the Bar also reserves the right to defense.

When asked about the implication of the Bar's decision and whether it yields more punitive measures if a lawyer decides to ignore it and continue practicing, Nkundabarashi said, "It is a very dangerous situation for any suspended lawyer to continue to practice. That would amount to a criminal offense and there is a provision in the panel code that provides for prosecution of that."

Every year, a lawyer is supposed to pay Rwf 750,000 to the Bar and paid in two instalments. Of that, Rwf 500,000 covers their medical insurance and their families.

However, there are lawyers who paid right after the deadline had passed and those were suspended for a month. There are those that didn't pay and also failed to show up before the disciplinary and ethics committee, those were given six months, while those that got one year are the recidivists that have over the years refused to pay their contributions.

"There are offenses like lawyers who do not abide by the agreements they enter into with their clients. We have warned these lawyers over and over. We encourage the public to always document through writing every engagement and agreement they have with the lawyers," Nkundabarashi said.

There are currently over 1500 lawyers registered with the Bar association and more are expected to join this year, although Nkundabarashi said that the suspension of the 96 will not affect the ongoing cases in court since there are enough lawyers that would take them on.

If a lawyer continuously gets sanctioned or commits a serious offense, they risk being banned from ever practicing law.

This is not the first time lawyers are suspended, in fact, according to Nkundabarashi, it's a routine practice. From 2019 to 2021, four lawyers were dismissed from their jobs while 207 were suspended.

In 2019, there were 109 lawyers suspended, in 2020 the number went down to 79 people while in 2021 there were only 18 suspended.