Ethiopian Defense Force Close to Mekelle Now that multiple high-profile criminal investigations are being conducted, the public is watching if the court has been reformed enough to be a trustworthy institution. While the government’s massive law enforcement including on high profile politicians would be a formidable challenge to the court, at the same time it has presented it an opportunity to prove if it has been liberated from political or self-imposed lack of independence and impartiality. Court rulings and decisions in relation to the ongoing criminal investigations and subsequent pretrial and trial proceedings would reveal where the court stands. The way the court would deal with the ongoing vast law enforcement activity will be a litmus test if it has been adequately reformed to be a truly independent and impartial judicial institution – the court that the Constitution envisions.
As the court gives its rulings and judgments on these criminal cases, the public will give its verdict on whether the court is doing its business with the highest standard of independence, impartiality, and competence. It is if the public rebrand the court as impartial and independent that it would be able to build the much-desired public trust – the primary goal of the Federal Supreme Court under its new leadership. If the court successfully gains a status of being a trusted source of justice, it will not only oblige us to support its judgments in the cases at hand. It would also play a significant contribution in the transition process.
The court always has the option of ordering conditional or unconditional release of detainees where the law enforcement does not respect their constitutional rights including the right to speedy completion of investigation. Indeed, the court’s power in controlling the legality of the investigation would be meaningful if it asserts such real power. That is how it can discharge its constitutional responsibility to respect and enforce constitutional rights of those who are deprived of their liberty on suspicion of crime.
If the court simply rubber-stamps the police request for further investigation or denies bail by simply looking at the alleged crime, in effect it would be the police, not the court, that determines the duration of investigation and whether or not the accused should be released on bail. This essentially makes the matters non-justiciable. The court should not allow that to happen.
Ensuring legality of investigation is needed not for its own sake only. It reduces the number of cases that would proceed to trial because by strictly enforcing the law of investigation, the court would make the law enforcement to discontinue investigation of un-meritorious cases. Furthermore, to the extent criminal investigation is conducted in accordance with the law, issue of admissibility of evidence and other criminal investigation related to preliminary matters are unlikely to arise during trial which would allow the trial court to focus on the substance of the prosecution’s charge. Thus, compliance with the law of investigation would pave the way for the right to speedy trial of those against whom the prosecution has adequate evidence to warrant their trial.