Court seeks constitutional interpretation in Melaku Fenta case

Addis Ababa, November 20 (WIC) – The Federal High Court referred Melaku Fenta et al case to the House of Federation for constitutional interpretation on the issue of jurisdiction. Federal High Court’s jurisdiction to try Melaku was challenged by the defense team who argued that the defendant, as a government official with a ministerial portfolio and a member of the Council of Ministers, shall be tried by the Federal Supreme Court.

Prosecution team had argued that Melaku’s ministerial portfolio is only to accord benefits for the former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA). As head of an Authority, Melaku should be tried by the Federal High Court, the prosecution team had argued. The court, presided over by three judges, regarded Melaku as a full-fledged minister however, questioned the constitutionality of referring the case to the Federal Supreme Court.

Under Article 8(1) of the Federal Courts Establishment Proclamation offences for which officials of the Federal Government are held liable in connection with their official responsibility, the Federal Supreme Court will have first instance jurisdiction. Further, Article 7(1) of the Revised Anti-Corruption Special Procedure and Rules of Evidence Proclamation says Federal High Court will have first instance jurisdiction other than those cases for which the Federal Supreme Court has first instance jurisdiction.

The court, in its unanimous ruling, questioned the constitutionality of these articles. “The defendant will be deprived of his constitutional right to appeal if his case is to be tried by the Federal Supreme Court,” said one of the judges.

“This is contrary to Article 20 (6) of the constitution which declares defendant’s right to appeal.” The ruling sought for constitutional interpretation on the matter as well as which court should have jurisdiction to preside over the case from the House of Federation (HoF), an organ with the power to interpret the federal constitution of the country.

In its power to interpret the constitution, the HoF is assisted by a professional body named the Council of Constitutional Inquiry, which the court also ordered the copy of the ruling to be sent to.

The case is now adjourned to December 12, 2013.