Sunday, May 19, 2024

Who should get priority in an expedited manner to be heard in court during COVID 19?

 “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  — Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and statesman

It is fundamental to understand and accept courts, and by extension, our justice system works for the people it serves. Given the fact that courts work for the people, it (the court) should adhere to the constitution and the rights of individuals unless and otherwise parliament suspends the constitution. Just for the record, I am not advocating Parliament should do such. I advocate quite to the contrary.

The severity of COVID 19 is one that is an imaginable for human consumption. We are in a different era of dealing with pandemic that is unheard of, challenging and could cost human life in a mass scale. Ethiopian legal system is not an exception in facing the challenge.

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The main challenges would be to find a way to deal with matters in these difficult and challenging times. As I indicated in my previous peace published a couple of weeks ago, technology could play a crucial role in achieving such. This peace should be taken as an advice, given the experience we face in Canadian courts.  

Ethiopian legal system should overcome the challenges that it is facing given the pandemic. Our court system needs to balance the two most important fundamental issues – the right to bail and the right to be tried within reasonable time – and be able to achieve two distinctive goals. One, it should show the public that it is aware of the current situation – COVID 19 – given the country’s constitution and its international obligation, and two, it should show the public the constitutional right of an individual is been adhered with respect to the right of individuals to be able to achieve public’s confidence in the administration of justice.

Recently, I read, Ethiopian courts will consider domestic assault matters as priority. I command that approach. I will like to ask Young persons to be given priority as well. My request to have Young Persons be dealt with in expedite matter came from the Convention on the Right of the Child that Ethiopia has ratified in 1991 and Ethiopian constitution under Part 1, Article 14 – 21. If I may, in the convention document, it acknowledges that a child is the right holder of the convention to which it reads: a child have the right to life, education, food, shelter, dignity, fairness and equality.

The notion of fairness is a fundamental to the child as the right holder. It is paramount to our justice system to which a citizen enjoys his/her constitutional right. In addition, Ethiopian constitution reads:  

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Article 17 Right to Liberty

1. No one shall be deprived of his or her liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. 2. No person may be subjected to arbitrary arrest, and no person may be detained without a charge or conviction against him.

Article 19 Right of Persons Arrested

3. Persons arrested have the right to be brought before a court within 48 hours of their arrest. Such time shall not include the time reasonably required for the journey from the place of arrest to the court. On appearing before a court, they have the right to be given prompt and specific explanation of the reasons for their arrest due to the alleged crime committed….

6. Persons arrested have the right to be released on bail. In exceptional circumstances prescribed by law, the court may deny bail or demand adequate guarantee for the conditional release of the arrested person.

The right of children under the law is stipulated in our constitution under article 36 that reads:

Article 36 Rights of Children

1. Every child has the right: a. To life; b. To a name and nationality; c. To know and be cared for by his or her parents or legal guardians; d. Not to be subject to exploitative practices, neither to be required nor permitted to perform work which may be hazardous or harmful to his or her education, health or well-being; i.e. To be free of corporal punishment or cruel and inhumane treatment in schools and other institutions reasonable for the care of children. 2. In all actions concerning children undertaken by public and private welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the primary consideration shall be the best interest of the child.

With respect to the above reading, our constitution reminds us to deal with young persons accused of committing crime to be deal with differently and in expedited manner, in fair and equitable manner. Length incarceration and inhuman treatment could result in un reversable damage to a young person that is languishing in prison.

Two things must be considered in dealing with the youth in our criminal justice system. One, a young person’s brain is still learning and growing to which, it will accept and adopt societal norm. Two, it is welcoming to rehabilitation and reform and could quickly become productive members of society. With those two things in mind, our criminal justice system should deal with young person fairly and quickly.

“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”  — John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

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

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