Federal Prosecution's New Face Promising for the Justice System

Aug 29 , 2020
By Eden Sahle

The nomination of Gideon Timothewos (PhD) as the federal attorney general, which would still need to be approved by parliament according to the law, could not have been a better move in the effort to improve the independence and accountability of the federal public prosecutor’s office.

This comes four years after the establishment of the Attorney General’s Office, back in 2016, under the administration of then Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. The establishment of an autonomous federal ministerial office with its own legal personality was intended to create institutional and professional independence. It absorbed the powers and duties of the then Ministry of Justice.

The Office has been institutionalised to provide uniform, effective and efficient legal services, creating an independent chief legal officer within the executive organ. The main task of the office is to ensure the rule of law, prepare criminal justice policy, enforce criminal law and serve as the principal advisor and representative of the federal government.

The establishment and stipulated independent existence of the Office was a promising step forward in affirming the Office as the sole legal representative to institute criminal proceedings and to intervene, where public and government interest requires, in civil cases.

Nevertheless, the Office has yet to live up to the intent of its establishment. The Office has failed to be perceived as either independent or accountable to the law. It has been politicised, making it lose public and legal professionals’ confidence.

The problems were not fixed with the most recent appointee to the Office, Adanech Abiebie, who has previously served as mayor of Adama and minister of Revenues. Her media briefings, especially on the events that occurred following the passing of Hachalu Hundessa, were too close in style and presentation with the politics of the incumbents.

How well Gedeon performs in this job is yet to be seen, but he checks many of the prerequisite boxes for someone to hold that office. This is freedom from political and party affiliation. Up until his nomination to the Office, he has not been known for his political views or affiliation with political parties. This could go a long way in helping him to organise the public prosecution office to live up to the professional, institutional and public accountability it was supposed to have.

I have never met Gedeon, although we have common friends. His humble personality and intellectual rigour is famous among those who knew him as a student, friend and co-worker, especially at Addis Abeba University. His close friends describe him as a humble, down-to-earth family man who is always ready to help others. His co-workers speak about him as a man of integrity who displays professionalism.

I heard about him in my early teens. We went to the same high school, Lideta Catholic Cathedral – he was several years my senior – and was often mentioned by teachers as a role model we should all look up to. Where professionalism is involved, I am thrilled to see him in this position. The system needs his expertise.

The politicisation of the Office has made the justice system suspect. In cases where the interests of powerful individuals are at stake, the problems become even tougher. Such a crisis can only be improved by appointing judges and prosecutors who keep the spirit of the law at heart.

The public demand for an independent judiciary is constitutional. The supreme law proclaims that all levels of courts should be free from any interference, influence of any governmental body and government official. Having an attorney general who recognises the fundamental importance of this part of the Constitution is extremely important to Ethiopia.

The justice system plays a fundamental role in the protection of justice, the rule of law and human rights. It is an indispensable institution for checks and balances on the other branches of government, ensuring that the laws of the legislative and the conduct of the executive comply with that of the nation and international laws.

Establishing an independent and impartial justice system that guarantees justice in full conformity with the facts of the case and the law is the government’s way into the hearts of the public. Admittedly, this is a tall order to expect from just one person, no matter how powerful his position might be.

In fact, if history has any lessons for us, it is that professional training and academic skills are no guarantee for doing what is right. Gedeon’s time in office, for instance, will be measured by how major political figures currently in jail will be perceived to have been treated by the justice system. If he succeeds in ensuring that this process is not politicised but looks at the facts of the matter, he will leave an enduring legacy in the justice system.

He has an impressive track record. We have yet to see what he can do as the federal government’s chief legal officer.

PUBLISHED ON Aug 29,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1061]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at edensah2000@gmail.com.

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