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The Long but Critical Road to Empowering the Judiciary


May 1 , 2020
By Eden Sahle ( 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. )


The criminal and civil case flow management directive, which will regulate the time federal courts take to close cases, is on track to be enforced by next year. Drafted by the Supreme Court, this is a measure that would help address shortcomings in the judicial system.

It is nonetheless only a small step in a part of the government that has been neglected for too long. The deeply rooted problems of the Ethiopian judiciary are immense. For generations, it has been a source of pain for those seeking justice instead of a place where people can find relief.

The sector not only suffers from a chronic shortage of human resources and interference by the executive, but also an inefficient organisational system that opens the door for the abuse of power.

Judges are handed hundreds of cases that take them years to clear, while the sector declines job opportunities to law graduates that could share the enormous burden.  Due to the workload, judges become unable to handle cases in a timely manner and can commit serious legal errors.

Judges are over and over again reminded to follow up cases, because they tend to forget them, owing to the heaps of files they have to deal with on a daily basis. Often, clients are not granted enough time to explain their matter in a dispute as judges are always in a hurry to catch up with the next file at hand. Plaintiffs and defendants are neglected, denied justice, and many come to lose hard-earned savings without the possibility of redress. This not only frustrates clients and their lawyers but also destroys trust in the justice system.

The public has learned to view the law with suspicion, convinced that justice is bought but not granted by law. It is the popular view that justice is for those with cash and connections.

The shortcomings of the judicial system affects more than the victims. Judges are underpaid and lack proper security. It is a career they practice under constant intimidation, receiving threats from every dark corner.

The greatest challenge to the judiciary though has always been the executive. The latter’s interference in the matters of the judiciary, especially in high-profile cases, has been a stain on the reputation and the independence of the courts for decades.

The Constitution specifies the importance of the judiciary's independence.  The supreme law of the land asserts that all levels of courts should be free from any interference, influence of any governmental body or government official.

Similarly, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct describe systems for the appointment of judges, security of their tenure, their financial security, promotion and accountability.

It is the regular complaint of those in practice that there has always been direct interference with the justice system to reverse judicial orders. Judges do not feel like they have the freedom to handle cases based on the law, especially when it comes to high-profile cases. In the absence of full separation of powers, it is hard to imagine that accountability will flourish.

Courts play an essential role in protecting the rule of law and human rights. It is an indispensable institution in the application of checks and balances. Courts should also exercise their mandate and ensure that the laws of the legislative and the conduct of the executive comply with the laws of Ethiopia.

The existence of independent and impartial courts is constitutional. Judges should be there to guarantee justice in full, considering only the facts of the case and the law. Strengthening the courts by making them autonomous is compulsory for accountability to prevail. Without these, the justice system will remain compromised.

It is vital for the country to establish and maintain this principle of judicial independence to protect and preserve a balance of power in the government. Judges should be allowed to fully exercise their vital roles. Otherwise, there is a serious risk that a culture of impunity will take root.

This is not something that can be achieved by passing any law. This is a matter of enforcement, and it would take a sense of responsibility, courage and determination on the part of the judiciary as well as the executive.



PUBLISHED ON May 01,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1044]



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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