House of Federation Rules out Discrimination

Visually impaired jurists can now be judges and prosecutors

Justice in Ethiopia should accommodate visually impaired persons as judges, according to the House of the Federation.

The body last week endorsed a decision to change a customary practice in the justice sector that prohibited visually impaired people from being judges and other legal officers.

Visual impairment should not deter or foarbid anyone from becoming full-fledged judge, and such decision should be banned on grounds of unconstitutionality, said Wossen Alem and Dawit Otcho, two visually impaired legal officers who sought to remove the ban.

Wossen and Dawit began their legal challenge two years ago when the Amhara Justice Professionals Training and Legal Research Institute (AJPTLRI), informed them that they could not be appointed to a position of judgeship due to their limitations. This decision came despite the fact the pair were recruited and trained in the same theoretical and practical short-term legal training, fulfilling the requirements for appointment.

The complainants argued that their constitutional right to choose their own profession must be respected and that prohibiting people with physical limitation is discriminatory act that should not be tolerated. They added that the fact they are blind will not deter them from executing their duties.

The Amhara Justice Professionals Training and Legal Research Institute has a policy of not electing visually impaired people to the position of judgeship. When their request to AJPTLRI hit a brick wall, they took their case to the Judicial Administration Council of the regional state. That body rejected their application on the ground that it does not consider an application not submitted to the Supreme Court of the regional state.

Upon further inquiry and investigation, the Council of Constitutional Inquiry forwarded its recommendation to the House of the Federation in support of the claim. The endorsement provides the need to not discriminate as it violates the right to work and employment enshrined in the Constitution and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is ratified by Ethiopia. It also infringes the proclamation on The Right to Employment Persons with Disability, according to the council.

The recommendation, while it noted exceptional cases, stated that the prohibition imposed by the institution is not based on well-established research but on conventional wisdom as it breaches the right to equality.

“If a person with visual impairment assigned as a public prosecutor has the capacity of proving cases beyond reasonable doubt, why cannot he work as a judge?,” said Zelalem Muluneh, a legal analyst and practitioner with visual impairment, in an interview with Fortune. “The problem is, the country has made neither technological instruments nor people available that can assist judges with visual impairment.”

In addition to the debate about their capacity in evaluating evidences, there have been arguments that assistance made by others to the judges with visual impairment conflicts with the duty of confidentiality.

“All judges work with their own court clerks,” Muluneh said.

Neither the speaker of the Amhara Regional State Council nor the Legal and Justice Affairs Standing Committee of the regional state initially submitted an opinion on the complainants.


Published on Nov 15,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 863]



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