20 May 2017

Ethiopia: Judgment Execution, Another Nightmare for Justice Seekers

opinion

If someone once won a civil legal case, which that person had been fighting in courts, and was assured that this person is the winner of the civil case, it does not mean the case is concluded. And a judgment creditor will not be delivered with the property or the money which the court ruled for him/her.

In this case, there is one more step to go to see implemented the judgment of the courts. The judgment creditor has to open another file at the judgment of execution courts, to settle and conclude the case once and for all.f someone once won a civil legal case, which that person had been fighting in courts, and was assured that this person is the winner of the civil case, it does not mean the case is concluded. And a judgment creditor will not be delivered with the property or the money which the court ruled for him/her.

The Federal Courts Judgment Execution Directorate, under the Supreme Court, is the entrusted organ with enforcement of civil court judgments. And anyone who has a closed case at the Supreme, High or First Instance courts has to open a file at the execution directorate.

This is what Yeberzaf Kinde did eight years ago. She had a closed case with the court judgment over the divorce issue with her husband. In 2010 the First Instance Court accepted their divorce and decided to divide the communal property. Therefore, she started the judgment execution process by opening another file at the court's judgment execution directorate.

In her file, she demanded that the directorate process and impose the allotting of the properties with her ex-husband. The property, which she requested to share with her husband, is a furniture company with three branches along with the properties and the plots which these companies lie on.

Now it is the eighth year since the judgment execution process started reviewing the case but neither has Yeberzaf gotten any property nor has the case been closed until now. And last week she was one of the people who celebrated Seventh Justice Week, honoured at a national level.

"So far she hasn't receive a penny out of the three properties," said Rahel Afeworqe, daughter of Yeberzaf, and also legal representative of her mother.

Displeased with the delay of the court judgment execution process of the case, she has appealed to different government institutions such as the city administration and the higher-level court. Currently, the case is at the Supreme Court following Yeberzaf's appeal over the delayed execution process.

Following this, the Supreme Court has written a letter to the Federal Courts Judgment Execution Directorate seeking an explanation about the case, whether it is settled or not. The letter also demands an explanation from the directorate for the reason for the delay, if the case is not settled.

According to the directorate, if anyone takes a case for execution, it will take only five minutes to open a file as a minimum time and 30 days is the maximum limit for the auctioning of property to take place. In the middle of the process, different time durations will take place, such as 15 days to investigate the properties, 20 days to assess the value of the properties and 10 days to hand over the properties.

The maximum day limit to fully execute the court judgment is 96 days.

To proceed with the judgment execution process, judgment creditors like Yeberzaf open a new file at the directorate. The directorate sends a warrant to the judgment debtor to defend the implementation of the judgment if the judgment debtor does not agree with the proceeding of the case.

The judgment debtor appeals to the directorate and explains why the execution of the ruling should not proceed. After analysing the case intensively from both sides, the directorate will pass a verdict on the case.

The next action that the directorate will take is verifying the properties of the judgment debtor and value the properties with the help of district and Woreda land management offices. After that, the directorate auctions the properties and sells them and allocates the money to both parties, accordingly.

The three departments under the directorate, namely technical, auction and finance departments, work in collaboration to implement the court order.

The auction will stay for 15 days for mobile properties and a month for non-movable properties. But this might not work for perishable items and products that have higher costs of keeping them. But most of the time the cases that the directorate receives are allotting properties after inheritance or divorce.

This brief process mentioned by the directorate does not make sense for Tibebe Ayele, who took a case for execution in order to get his share out of inherited property. He demands to take two-fifths of the land sharing it with his brothers as the court judged on this.

Although the case was taken to the court nearly a year and a half ago, he has not managed to settle the case yet. There is back-and-forth in the process of executing the judgment from the court for his case. He claims that experts at the directorate removed some documents from the file and failed to mention some facts while preceding with the case intentionally.

"The directorate is committing administrative injustice on me, and they are trying to turn down the ruling of the court," Tibebe told Fortune. "Former experts at the directorate intentionally hide the documents and create inconveniences, which the recent management of the directorate is not willing to correct," said Tibebe.

He claims that the directorate is favouring some parties who want the plot to be auctioned, rather than dividing it by agreement. On the other hand, the directorate asserts that he is trying to take the best part of the plot leaving the rest to his brothers.

The processes delay, mainly due to problems arising from the parties involved in the case and stakeholders working with the directorate, according to Gosheye Damte, a judge at the Higher Court and director of the Federal Courts Judgment Execution Directorate.

To execute court judgments, district and Woreda land management bureaus and the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA) work with the directorate, feeding them necessary information about the property which is going to be given to the parties or go up for auction.

"Ruling by the courts is very simple as it is paperwork," said Gosheye. "But the challenging part is executing the judgments," he told Fortune explaining the challenges they face in executing court judgments.

He also believes that delays have improved from previous times as they have massively worked on bringing change and reforms.

Gosheye mentions that not only are stakeholders' institutions becoming primary sources of delay but also the parties in the case. Many people drop the case before it is settled, hide properties, mislead the workers of the directorate with nullified orders and documents, or abuse and attack the workers, according to Gosheye.

But for Liku Worku, a lawyer who also did his MA thesis on the Court Judgment Execution Process, the leading cause for delay in execution emanates from the weak institutionalism nature of the directorate and inefficient professionals in the system.

"Because of the practitioners in the system, cases which have to be settled in two or three days take two to three months," said Liku. "This situation gets worse in the regional towns of the country."

In contrast to this, the directorate externalises the delay as caused by less cooperativeness of stakeholders. Sometimes, district and Woreda land management offices decline to accept the ruling of the court and are reluctant to send the required documents demanded by the directorate, according to the management of the director.

There are also many people who try to mislead the directorate with forged documents and false information, according to Melaku Degene, head of the technical department at the directorate.

"Therefore the process needs carefulness and special attention, which needs time," said Melaku.

As a solution, for Liku, the responsibility of executing court judgments has to be outsourced to private companies, which would administer the process in line with the code of conduct. If not, the directorate has to work on elevating its efficiency and bring competent and efficient professionals to the scene.

But Gosheye is optimistic that the process will be shorter once they can manage to set up a court at their directorate, claiming they have requested it and are waiting for a decision. Till then, Yebrezaf has taken the case to the Supreme Court, while Tibebe prefers to appeal to the office of the Attorney General and presidents of Federal First Instance, High and Supreme courts.

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