House passes landmark decision on constitutional dispute

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Addis Ababa, January 2, 2014 (WIC) - In a landmark decision, the House of Federation (HoF) deemed provisions granting Federal Supreme Court exclusive first instance jurisdiction over criminal cases involving government officials ‘unconstitutional’.
The issue was brought up to the attention of the house for constitutional clarity from the 15th criminal bench of the Federal High Court presiding over Melaku Fenta et al grand corruption case. 
In an overwhelmingly majority, the house rendered Article 8 (1) of Proclamation No. 25/96 and a similar provision, Article 7 (1) of Proclamation No. 434/05, ‘null and void’. Both provisions grant the Federal Supreme Court, the country’s highest and final judicial organ, first instance jurisdiction over criminal suits involving government officials.
The Council of Constitutional Inquiry, a professional body tasked to investigate and decide on constitutional disputes, found that the provisions ‘violate a defendant’s right to appeal’ as stated under Article 20 (6) of the FDRE constitution.
They also found the provisions contrary to the principle of equality before the law (Article 25 of the constitution).  
Based on the decision submitted to the house by the Constitutional and Regional Affairs Standing Committee, the house held a half day deliberations which was chaired by speaker Kassa Teklebirhan. When it was time to vote, 76 members voted in favor of the council’s decision with eight objections and two abstinences.
The decision mean, the Federal High Court will retain jurisdiction over Melaku’s case. The former director general of Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA), had argued that as a government official with a ministerial rank he should be tried at the Federal Supreme Court. 
The decision also means, subject to jurisdiction, government officials, including members of House of People’s Representatives, HoF, ministers and officials above the rank of ministers, judges of the Federal Supreme Court could be brought before any court.

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