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The House of Federation (HoF) ruled out Article 8 (1) of Proclamation No. 25/96 of the Federal Court’s Establishment Proclamation that grants the Federal Supreme Court exclusive first instance jurisdiction over criminal cases involving government officials saying that it is unconstitutional.
The articles states that the ‘Federal Supreme Court shall have exclusive first instance jurisdiction over the offences for which officials of the Federal Government are held liable in connection with their official responsibility.’
On November 20, 2013, the Federal High Court’s 15th Criminal Bench referred the case of Melaku Fenta, former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA), to the Council of Constitutional Inquiry, saying that the latter needed to determine whether the Federal High Court had material jurisdiction on the case.
The Court decided that the case needed interpretation by the Constitutional Inquiry Commission – an expert group under the House of Federation – against counter arguments from prosecutors of the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC).
Prosecutors for FEACC during the proceeding argued that the former director general may have a ministerial portfolio, but that it was meant only as a benefit of his job. They also claimed that the office Melaku led is an authority and not a ministry.
During its urgent session on Thursday January 2, 2014, the House of Federation with a majority vote decided that the article was unconstitutional referring to Article 20 (6) of the FDRE constitution that reads ‘All persons have the right of appeal to the competent court against an order or a judgment of the court which first heard the case.’
When it was time to vote, 76 members voted in favor of the council’s decision with eight objections and two abstinences.
The decision means, the Federal High Court will retain jurisdiction over Melaku’s case.
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.