23 March 2017

Ethiopia: Transitioning Ministry of Justice to Federal Attorney General

After the downfall of the Derg regime in 1991, the then transitional government of Ethiopia did try to do its level best to establish the judiciary body relatively to be independent of the executive branch of the government.

Currently, based on the country's federal form of structure, courts are established centrally and state wise. Years later, courts were re-established based on the proclamation of Federal Government and state courts and recognized by the Constitution. Side by side with this, according to the Federal Attorney General Magazine entitled "Lisane Fitih" published last September, as per the Proclamation Number 4/1987 established separately from the courts and its mandate is also stated in detail on article 23. Later on, it was again re-established by the Proclamation Number 471/98 and did its day-to-day business based on its mandate.

Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa. It is home to more than 100 million people and there are many factors that pose numerous criminal and civil cases which need better justice service.

According to some studies, following the rapid economic growth registered for more than a decade cultural change is witnessed. And due to the rise in the demand for material life and to meet the demand, some are found engaged in criminal activities. Unemployment and frustration also force some segments of the society to eye criminal acts as a short-cut to amassing wealth.

The exposure of the society to the outside world - going abroad, meeting foreigners here and utilizing information communication technology could foment some criminal activities here. The growing global network for human trafficking, money laundering and terrorism has posed new challenges to the nation's legal and justice system. Hence, to mitigate the problem restructuring the justice institutions at federal and state levels is vital. In addition to this, allocating the necessary budget and equipping the institutions with cutting-edge technologies is essential.

According to "Lisane Fitih", to upgrade the capacity of the prosecutor organ to a higher level, bringing various prosecutor organs into one Attorney General Office is preferable. To realize that, the office is established by the Proclamation Number 943/2008 EC. The Federal Attorney General is under the Prime Minster and the Council of Minsters. It has a head office in Addis Ababa and if necessary it can open branch offices in the states. The objectives of the establishment of the office, among others, is protecting the Constitution and the constitutional order, ensuring the rule of law and protecting the Federal Government and the public's civil interests. Discharging these responsibilities is not an easy task.

It is rather a daunting one. Protecting the constitution and translating it in to action is not a task to be left to a given institution, it needs a concerted effort by all stakeholders and citizens at large. For that educating people to understand their civic duty is essential and creating citizens who knows their right and duty is vital. Promulgating rules and regulations as well as establishing legal institutions by themselves do not guarantee the prevalence of the rule of law. There needs to be citizens who know their rights and defend them to enhance the rights of citizens.

Citizens should organize themselves and to facilitate such moves the sprouting of civic organizations is vital. For the prevalence of the rule of law based on the Constitution, separation of power among the three branches of the government is essential. Institutions should also be led by officials with professional integrity. Side by side with this, the burgeoning of independent media which play a watchdog role is necessary. For the execution of criminal laws, legal institutions should be strengthened and step up their efforts to pre-empt criminal activities.

Currently, because of the sophistication of criminal activities with the capacity of channelling illegal money make the tracing of criminal acts demanding. Thus, taking this into consideration leading the pertinent legal institution by officials with professional integrity is necessary. Criminals with their money can also manipulate the bureaucracy hence, the task of the Attorney General in this regard is very demanding.

In defending the interest of the government and the public at large the civil causes is also need a cautious activity. There are contractual agreements among parties in various aspect of life be it in business, in property transfer, in trade and inheritances and property transfer. And when contractual agreements are broken conflict arise among the claimants which need legal services.

In this light, the responsibility of the attorney general, according to its jurisdiction, is higher. Providing justice requires time, energy and patience and providing justice to claimants with speedy manner is in separable to the system.

There are also additional responsibilities provided to the attorney general. It has prepared the criminal justice policy and saw to its proper implementation. With regard to legal affairs, the attorney general represents the government and additionally plays role on consultation. It has an authority to hear report on criminal investigation. It has also a mandate to close the case or order the Continuation of the investigation and inform the decisions of the attorney general and the court to the police.

In sum, as it is mentioned above bringing the prosecution body which previously organized in a separated manner to the Federal Attorney General in central way can simplify the prosecution process and helps bringing justice in a speedy manner. Hence, the transition process from the Ministry of Justice to the Federal Attorney up to the states must be enhanced up to the state level.

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