Wednesday, July 24, 2024
CommentaryTransforming the criminal justice system

Transforming the criminal justice system

The fundamental principle of justice is measured by how it treats the vulnerable, its poor, uneducated, the elderly, the children, and fundamentally its accused, given the fundamental right of every one to be presumed innocent, writes Sisay Woldemichael.

Canada has been straggling to reform the justice system for decades. New and old phenomena’s emerge from time to time. New phenomena’s such as prison reform, Court reform and police reform, Youth justice system emerges due to the demographic change and cultural changes in the country. Old phenomena’s emerge due to aboriginal issues where marginalized communities that have been systemically discriminated, voiced and challenged the system through Supreme Court, of aboriginal people treatment by the justice system. The challenge heard at the country’s highest court made land mark decision in R v. Gladue to which systemic discriminatory practices and historical context to be considered in determining the faith of an aboriginal defendant.

In Ethiopian context, our country’s judicial system has been in an adversary approach with those who seek justice for many years. Our justice system has been perceived by people to be in par with the executive branch where orders or directions come from the executive to the judiciary. Sometimes it (our justice system) in the eye of the poor and underprivileged is bought by rich and privileged. A sentiment that people talk about it in the open “if you have money things can be fixed”. The disparity that is clearly not in favor of thriving democratic and fair society requires detailed examination of the system and its short comings, with the undertaking of reform initiative.

The need for separation of power is fundamental to justice reform. In addition, Looking into the cause and effect of factors that contribute to criminal offences may assist in reduction of crime and building a society that will contribute to the growth of the country.

Canada has benefited tremendously from the Justice Reform initiative. The reform looks into but not limited to ensuring consistency with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, reducing the over-representation of vulnerable populations, assessing the impacts of criminal sentencing reforms made in recent years, improving efficiency, effectiveness and timeliness increasing transparency, accountability and oversight within the federal correctional system and increasing the use and acceptance of restorative justice processes.

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Canada’s justice system is considered among the best in the world. Many other countries have emulated our Charter and Canadian judicial officials are often chosen to serve on international courts and tribunals.

The trigger to reform initiated from System delays and inefficiencies. Delays within the justice system are harmful to all involved – victims, communities, and the accused. Due to the time it takes to get to trial, there are currently more people in provincial jails awaiting trial or sentencing than actually serving sentences. This is true in the Ethiopian context.

Accused persons spent more time in jail until police and prosecutors gather information, investigate the matter and bring it to court. Often courts allow prosecutors more time to complete their investigation while the accused languishes in Jail, making the accused and his family suffer. The accused, due to his/her economic circumstances cannot set bond (bail) with the constitutional challenge of presumption of innocence. Victims and their families often have to wait years to see justice done.

The recent clash between Oromia and Somali regions and/or between ethnic groups in Burayu is a concern to any citizen who exercises the right to live peacefully in an area of his or her choice.

The arbitrary lynching of a citizen in Shashemene and the issue of cargo truck stop on unfounded suspension in Bahir Dar, the looting of individual businesses and homes in the country, to anyone conscious is impossible to grasp. Citizens taking the law in their own hand (vigilantism), law enforcement detaining, searching, interrogating individuals without court authorization and/or legislative power, the boldness (lynching a man in a broad day light in front of thousands of people) by groups or individuals, tests the core value of human decency, and challenge the system, specifically the justice system.

This lawlessness has resulted to question the legitimacy and the enforcement ability of our laws, and raised concerns of willingness of our law enforcement to tackle the issue head on. Fundamental to the question is the constitutional right to live, work and raise our children in any place (within Ethiopia) that we call home.

Questions such as, does a citizen have the right to live and make money anywhere in Ethiopia? Is that right protected under the constitution? If so, how do we guaranty the fundamental right under the constitution to the citizens? What should be done to those who violet individuals right and the law.

This is not a constitutional law paper, rather, this paper will discuss the issue of Justice Reform, examining the fundamental issues of our criminal law and it’s potential to steam line the criminal charges. In the process, it will touch on some of the factors that contribute to the crime committed and it will suggest what our criminal courts ought to examine and understand in order to reform those who are convicted of a crime.

The fundamental principle of justice is measured by how it treats the vulnerable, its poor, uneducated, the elderly, the children, and fundamentally its accused, given the fundamental right of every one to be presumed innocent.

Justice must not only be seen as equal, it had be perceived to be equal. The question is how do people view justice? What are the steps that we need to take for the people to have confidence in the administration of justice?

For several years, our justice system had created division and animosity – in other words, them vs. us mentality to which the system protected itself by all cost. The constitution was seen as a safe guard to govern the people to which it was meant to protect. I argue, the constitution is meant to limit the governments’ power and increase citizens’ rights. This approach may seem unthinkable in our past history and the countries context but is achievable. Arguably, the gate of our constitution is first scrutinized from the eye of the people vs. courts.

Before we indulge into the issue, we must discuss the core principle of reform. Why do we need a reform when some view the system to be perfectly okay? Courts are a creation of statute. By that it means, it is a institute that interpret the law as it is enacted by the legislators in parliament. It is a public place where openness and transparency is paramount to the institute.

The above paragraph begs the question. What does it all mean? It means that justice must be equal, open, transparent, fair, and participatory. Participatory justice – that has been done for centuries in Ethiopia, through elder participation – entail Restorative justice and Consensus-based justice to which it should address issues to resolve crime and conflict, focusing on the victims, making offenders accountable for their action and engage the community in the manner for conflict resolution, and apply creative and innovative methods of resolving mostly non-violent crimes.

This idea is not new to our culture. As indicated above, it has been exercises for centuries under a tree – Like my grandfather use to perform– and now in several part of Ethiopia’s farm communities. Transforming that culture to the modern day courts is essential for the wellbeing of communities and our justice system.

Ed.’s Note: Sisay Woldemichael is a Judiciary (Justice of the Peace) and former adviser of communication to the Chief Justice of Ontario, at Ontario Court of Justice in Canada. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].

Contributed by Sisay Woldemichael


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