The Ethiopian Justice System, Current Reform Efforts, Assessment, and Recommendations.
By: Demelash Kassaye
Addis Ababa University
School of Social Work and Social Development
This presentation focuses on the comprehensive justice reform program that Ethiopia has conveyed to bring an overall change on the entire service of the justice system delivered since decades. In 1991, following many years of fighting led by various rebel movements, the Derg, as the Marxist regime which came into power in 1974 was replaced by coalition intent on establishing a democratic state.
A new constitution, enacted in 1995, provided a federal system of government in which sovereignty was to reside in “the Nations and Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia”. The new government soon embarked on a series of reforms designed to encourage the economic and social development of the country and reduce poverty. It was assumed that progress in these fields required to a complete overhaul of the justice system, allowing citizens to seek and obtain an affirmation of their rights as embodied in and guaranteed by the democratic new constitution. As is learned from state executive reports, it is found urgent to adapt its judicial system to the demands of the changing world economy, and political system.
The main findings of the study described that the current legislative and regulatory procedures are streamlined in one system for fastening the trial process. To this effect, respecting the right that the Ethiopian constitution bestowed to the regional states to form their own justice system, the proclamation that legally constituted different justice organs clearly stipulated the existence of the national committee constituted in comprising the regional states and the federal government to work on matters related with restoring justice in the country. The analysis of the present situations show that the current legislative and regulatory procedure is improved in resolving the fragmentation of the legal system, a lack of coherence between existing codes and laws and, as a result, an uncertainty as to the legal norm.
To keep the continuum of the change, the house of representatives decreed to convey the Business Process Reengineering, whereby, currently, the Ethiopian Police, Prosecution, and Court are streamlined in one pattern, from which the people are receiving justice from one office, which is equivalent to purchasing goods in one shop. This has brought the trial fasten and public satisfaction as well. However, though the penal code defines criminal liability, sanctions and parole, it is unclear whether there is a flow of information between the prison service and the police and Public Prosecution Service.
Possibly the most important shortcoming of the prison system and police generally is the insufficiency of training. The lack of clear provisions regarding the relations between prison employees and the inmates, as well as the poor conditions of police stations and prisons are also grave shortcomings. The budget of the prison that the government expend to run the programs in prison homes should improve to a certain level to better serve errant in prison.
Key Words: Ethiopia, justice, penal code, prison
Historical and constitutional background
After the down fall of the Marxist regime, of Ethiopia in 1991, the highly centralized system of the government was changed into a democratic and decentralized federal system. The constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has been endorsed and adopted by the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia, on 21 August, 1995. The constitution being confirmed by the participation of the people ensured to constitute a federal system of self determination of nine regions or states to which judicial and wide legislative and administrative powers are devolved. The elected House of Peoples’ Representatives is predetermined by the constitution as law-making organ in all matters to the federal jurisdiction.
The independence of the judiciary is protected by the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. All the judicial functions of the two levels, the federal and state are left to the courts. Three hierarchies have been in place in composing the Federal Supreme Courts, The Federal High Court, and the Federal first Instance.
The same three-tier system obtains in each State under the names of State Supreme Court, Zonal or high court and Woreda Courts, (Comprehensive Justice System Reform Program Base Line Study Report, 2005). The Ethiopian Constitution has pronounced the legal provision to the federal and state legislatures to legally recognise the jurisdiction of Religious and Customary Courts. Besides, courts functioning in the form of Social Courts are serving the society even though they are not mentioned in the Constitution.
The Ethiopian Justice System
In Ethiopian justice system, as is in any other country, the justice system is not restricted to the provisions of the constitution, defining the structure and power of the court. It extends to other organs lined in restoring justice in the country, which have the role of facilitating the functioning of the courts, are charged with law enforcement or reach law. All these facilitating the trial process are interlinked one to another. As a result, any assessment focusing on the reform entail these to evaluate the whole system how it operates to satisfy needs of the people regarding justice. Therefore, the Justice system of Ethiopia has been formed in embedding the law making institutions, Institutions Facilitating the Functioning of the courts, Institutions Charged with Law Enforcement and Law.
Teaching and Research Institutions
The Law Making Institutions
Ethiopia is a democratic country. Two Law making institutions are constituted by the constitution: the House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of the federation. Its law making procedure refers to parts of the justice system. The latter has indirect legislative function as it can determine civil matters, which requires the enactment of laws by the House of Peoples’ Representatives, (The FDRE, Constitution, 1995).
Institutions Facilitating the Functioning of the Courts
As is known, the Ministry of Justice has the task to advise the Federal Government in matters related with law. It works on identifying causes for the appearance of crime, modus operand of crime and design intervening strategies to narrow the possible opportunities of crime to happen. In the national regional states, the justice bureau is in charge of these roles.
Institutions Charged with Law Enforcement
In law enforcement practices, three bodies are recognised under the Ethiopian Justice system, having different functions. They are the Public Prosecution Service, The Federal Police, and the Federal Prison Commission. The Public Prosecution Office is formed under the Ministry of Justice. It is legitimized by law to prosecute federal crimes before Federal and State Courts. The Federal Police is constituted under the Ministry of Federal Affairs, are responsible to investigate federal crimes at federal and state levels. The state police have the power to investigate crimes limited under their jurisdiction and co-operate with the Federal Police, if necessary. The Federal Prison commission is responsible to the management and administration of prisons and rehabilitation of convicts. In the national regional states, the state prison commission is responsible to implement the roles expressed in above.
Law Teaching and Research Institutions
The educational policy and strategy of the country emphasised to fill the scarcity of skilled manpower by training professionals in the stream of law. Therefore a number of public and private universities and colleges launched the program a years back. These provide legal education with the levels of Diploma, LLB, Masters of Law, and PhD in law. Besides of this, the Justice and Legal System Institute, established in 1997, undertake research activities to identify the major problems and recommend the way forward to satisfy needs and expectations of justice seekers.
Current Reform Efforts
The current reform program carried out in the country has come with the most blatant deficiencies of the justice systems in the country. These were insufficient number of skilled and educated judges and public prosecutors, the inappropriate and inefficient administration of the courts, and the lack of clarity and coherence in respect of existing laws and codes (Comprehensive Justice System Reform Program Base Line Study Report, 2005). In these three major sectors, reforms were initiated and implemented.
Training of Judges, other Justice Personnel, Police Officers and Prison Administrators
The reform program has proposed phases to gradually fill the gaps identified in the first preliminary surveys. Phases included in the implementation program were classified in three successive programs: providing training to judges, public prosecutors and administrators. The educational institutions selected in the program were the Faculty of Law of Addis Ababa University, and the Civil Service College, and the Ethiopian Police University College and Regional Police Training Centres. The programs of all the higher education institutions were aimed at upgrading knowledge, skills and attitude of low level judges and prosecutors during court recess time and enhance the competence of police personnel and prison administration officials. Newly established universities, sponsored by the central government are expected to offer similar upgrading courses, seminars and workshops in matters of law, criminal justice and criminology. The program has used the country to lessen the gap of qualified judges, police and prison administrators with certain degree.
Court Administration Reform
Various ways used by different countries were used to experience `the benefit of the reform in the court administration. Pilot projects were developed under the control of the Federal Supreme Court in collaboration with some donor agencies funding multifarious reforming processes. The program was extended to Federal and some State courts and it is eventually assumed to over widen the coverage of the program throughout the country.
Law Reform and Harmonization
The harmonization process and amending of the law were held in valuing the constitutional pillars of the country, in which Ministry of Justice and Legal system research Institutes managed to control the plan developed to its effect. The process has considered two crucial points which are codification and updating existing law and codes as part of this important process.
Assessment on Law Enforcement Institutions
Assessments of Each Justice Institutions problems are identified as the composing factors contributing to the failure of reaching improved service to justice seekers. Currently, many changes are achieved as though the outcome of Business Process Re-engineering is introduced in the public service program throughout the country, (Comprehensive Justice System Reform Program Base Line Study Report, 2005).
The Public Prosecution Service and its structure
The public prosecution service is structured as the executive branch of the government. Proclamation 4/1995 known as the Proclamation on definition of powers and duties of the Executive Organs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia set its structure where it is to be and therefore the Ethiopian Public Prosecutor Service has the Federal and state structure at the regions level.
The Ethiopian Police system is organized in two known as the Federal Police Service and nine national regional states and two councils of city administration.
The Federal Police
The federal police are legally founded with the proclamation number of, 313/2003. Article 6 of this proclamation defined the objectives of the commission as maintaining the peace and security of the public due considering the constitution and other laws emanated out of the constitution.
The regional police
The Regional states are allowed to owe their own police force. Their structure is more or less similar with the structure used in the Federal Police. The respective state authorities have the power to assign the regional police commissioner. The regional services are also independent when it comes to administering and implementing the actual police work.
Relation between the federal and state polices
Both have relation in matters of developing operational strategies of the country in policing. Therefore, the regional state polices frequently ask support of the federal police when is necessary. They have good relation in setting the recruitment criteria and training to produce skilled and trained police professionals.
Police training method has shifted into active learning than the traditional lecture type of teaching method. The aim is to produce the police officers well aligned with the actual police work where it is on the ground. The federal police have got a training centre for Federal Police, a police university college where higher police officials of the whole country are trained and regional colleges and training centres where police staffs are trained for primary police work.
The system is relatively young, compared to the Continental-European and Anglo-American systems. In 1994, a prison administration was established under the rule of emperor Haileselassie. During the Derg regime prisons were neglected and served as the place of imprisoning citizens those who are against the Marxist political ideology. After the fall of that regime, the current government has determined to reform the whole prison system.
Structure and organization of the Federal and State Prison services
The Ministry of Federal Affairs is responsible to coordinate the work of prison administration. From Articles 51 and 52 of the Constitution it seems to follow that every single state has the autonomous power to organize and administrate the prison system in its own way, provided this is compatible with provisions in the constitution.
Federal prisons are located at Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. The Federal Prisons have branches in Zeway, Robbit and Kaliti (Addis Ababa). Women prisoners are detained in separate units
Observation and major shortcomings related to the Law Enforcement Institutions
The public prosecution
The shortage of prosecutors in the Ethiopian Public Prosecution Service, the failure of those that do exist to meet minimum qualifications, the lack of training, the appalling conditions in which they work, the backlogs which they face and other circumstances create a worrisome and alarming situation. A democratic federation requires a well-functioning criminal justice system without a weak link. In Ethiopia, even though, there are achievements scored from the reform program, it needs the office strive for the betterment of justice in the country. The Public Prosecution Service, however, showed encouraging results to improve the bad situation experience in the past.
It is common knowledge in Ethiopia that the police wrestle with a poor image caused from the police being an instrument to suppress the interest of the previous Monarchical and Marxist regimes. Despite of doing much to change this image is gradually improving. As history of the country tells, until 1991, the police was a means for the former regime to realize its objectives, which were often not in the interests of individuals’ citizens. Although the police have on the concept of community policing, and already operate to some extent on the basis of policing by consent, it will simply take a long time before this is actually acknowledged and recognized by the public. Nonetheless, the reasons for the public image should be viewed from two perspectives in which the public works as partner of police in areas of identifying police priorities and allotting resources to advance proactive policing.
To this end, the police have been demilitarized and military ranking has been abandoned. This maintains the positive image of the police not as a service of power and oppression rather than a public service-oriented.
The federal and state prisons systems have many shortcomings. I would just like to highlight the following ones
The most important shortcomings encountered the prison system are in the field of training i.e.
a) Training offered to improve skill of civil prison staff is inadequate
b) There is no special training on handling of custodians in police
c) Trainings offered in police schools are not task oriented
d) Scarcity of professional trainers in the field of law, psychology and
Provisions to govern the relations between prison employees and the inmates
After the step down of the Derg regime, the police was demilitarized by law. The challenge encountered was to bring attitudinal change of police officers served the past two regimes for long. This has also been the case for prisons’ administration and prison police. Based on the observation made on the visited police stations and prisons, it is easy to understand that prison police are predominantly represented, and civilian staff is insignificantly present. Therefore, in the previous days, the administration of prisons and police stations is more of a military rather than a civilian character. This is clearly reflected in an attitude and mentality of prison police towards prisoners that is based on obedience and oppression, leading in some cases to human rights abuses. Despite of this, against from the aforementioned background, declaring clear provisions regulating the relations between inmates and the prisons administration not only avoid the earlier military mentality, it also gives wide room to avoid unfit practices to operate. This used to make the service of the parole well aligned with the international standards.
Conditions of detention
The physical conditions of the visited police stations and prisons are intolerable in terms of hygiene, sanitation, health service, food and education facilities. Contrary to international standards and to Ethiopian laws, there is almost no separation of detainees based on the seriousness of crimes they have been convicted.
A complicating aspect of the bad conditions of detention is the overcrowding of police stations and prisons. As a matter of fact, overcrowding in police stations and in prisons makes the justice system suffer for awaiting of trial, or pre-trial detention.
Lack of Budget
There is no need for research or studies in order to conclude that police stations and prisons have been neglected for a long time. By the same token, it is obvious that the administration of prisons has lacked and currently lacks budget.
Way forward to prosecution, police and prison administration
- The present reform program has scored change on the service of Ethiopian Justice, but needs to think of the progress how it can continue, so as to better serve the people.
- The service that the police deliver should be in line with the philosophy of community policing and extend the service up to maintaining quality life of the people
- The training manuals and methods of teaching should embrace some of the international standards, and interlink the cross-cutting issues of the institutions in phases of the training stages
- The training given must focus on problem based and interactive learning in order to bring behavioural change among police and prison administration
- Adequate resource relevant to education, health, and others should be in place to improve the management of inmates in prison
Comprehensive Justice Reform Program. (2005). Base Line Study Report. Published
The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 1995.
The Proclamation of the Ethiopian Federal Police, 2003.
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