ADDRESSING JUDGES ON JUSTICE AND THE LAW
…. Since in the scale of creation all men are born equal, it is imperative that all laws should be equitable in their application. For, what is the foundation of freedom and what are the reasons that men cherish it if they are not equal before the law?
It is an accepted criterion all over the world to elect judges on the basis of their merit and not on any other considerations. In Ethiopia, the Kings received their mission from God and the allegiance of the people because they have faith in the justice of their actions.
What Our Minister of Justice in his speech has said on your behalf as well as the four-day conference that you have attended will undoubtedly contribute to your enlightenment.
Our history shows that the Emperors and Kings decided cases and handed down judgment based on precedents and the prevailing custom. They were assisted by the “Fetha Negest,” a legal code compiled by learned ecclesiastics. It was even a custom to bury a copy of this code with the Rulers – an act symbolizing the fact that while dispensing justice in their life-time they had not deviated from the provisions of the “Fetha Negest.”
Since in the scale of creation all men are born equal, it is imperative that all laws should be equitable in their application. For, what is the foundation of freedom and what are the reasons that men cherish it if they are not equal before the law? The answer is clear to all of you.
With the assistance of Our elders We have striven to improve the judicial system of our country from the time that We accepted the high responsibility of leading the destiny of our nation, realizing that this is part of our trust. As Saint Paul said: “Where specific law exists, try according to the law, where there exists no code of law, try according to your conscience.”
As you have mentioned in your speech We have been continuously exercised with the task of dispensing justice with equity. And you must be aware of the enormous effort that we have devoted to the promulgation of the Civil and Criminal Codes and to secure the service of foreign legal experts to assist in the execution of these tough tasks both before and after the promulgation of the Constitution.
This is not the first time that We have addressed an assembly of this nature. While some of you had actually attended the meeting that was held earlier at the same place, those of you who were not present must have read about it.
Those who are selected as judges must realize their great responsibilities, for a judge must endeavour to discover the truth so that his judgment will always be impartial and unbiased. He must, moreover, strive to overcome fear and to resist temptations such as those of pecuniary gains and favouritism and any other practices that might prevent him from the proper execution of his duties. He should, in addition, seek guidance from the Almighty God, be true to his conscience and examine objectively cases brought before him to aid him in avoiding malpractices.
Ignorance No Excuse
No judge could claim ignorance or poverty as an excuse for shortcomings in the administration of justice because he can neither shirk the responsibility entrusted to him by the Crown nor perjure his God-given conscience. It will be found that physical and material handicaps which are often short-lived and transitory are not so harmful as finding one’s self faced with a guilty conscience. Whenever conflict arises between material and spiritual values the conscience plays an important role, and anyone who suffers from a guilty conscience is never free from this problem until he makes peace with his conscience. As you all are cognizant of those things which displeased God and brings forth shame, temptations should be rigorously resisted.
Justice is the fundamental axiom for the survival of freedom and government.
We have always been endeavouring to see that what is benefiting people elsewhere in the world is made available to Our own people. For this reason We ourselves have been receiving appeals in Our Court. Ordinary small cases which naturally cannot be handled by Us because of shortage of time have been entrusted to our Ministry of Justice and other judicial authorities in the faith that justice will be dispensed with equity in accordance with the responsibility bestowed upon Us by the Almighty God.
The problem of administering justice is not a thing which exists only in Ethiopia; it exists all over the world. As judges do demand justice for themselves, you should endeavour to administer justice with equity, remembering the words of Jesus Christ that man cannot live on bread alone; he has a spirit to care for.
Our people have always been demanding justice. He who seeks justice knows the value of justice too. This testifies to the maturity of Our people. This has been said time and again in history and is not something new. For this reason We are proud of Our people. We say this to you so that there will be improvement in the future in the administration of justice. Although there might have been failures in the past there is no doubt you have endeavoured to administer justice squarely. In order to satisfy all the demands of all the people, time is required. As We have already pointed out, that which does not give time is the feeling of a guilty conscience. We should try to avoid it with all our efforts.
An endeavour shall be made to arrive at prompt decision on the draft regulations defining the responsibilities of the courts and their administration. It is a well known fact that the budget of the Ministry of Justice has been increased. It should also be noted that as the work of the administration of justice expands, studies will be made for the procurement of still additional funds. There are various means by which the Ministry of Justice can closely co-operate with other departments of the government which have their own part to play in carrying out this task. We shall be passing orders to the Council of Ministers through our Prime Minister to study the possibility of establishing schools for juvenile delinquents on the lines of the one functioning in Addis Ababa so that teenage law offenders who get involved in crimes as a result of their mental instability can be punished for what they have done in the past and at the same time be protected against indulging in crimes in the future.
We have time and again said with regard to the Moslem Community, that the integrity and religious right of everyone should be protected and respected. As laws are being enacted at all times, We have long ago permitted the drafting of laws suited to their religious practices. However, since religion and work go hand in hand, it should be understood that the laws should be practised in a method not detrimental to the unity of a nation. Our Minister of Justice will submit for study the details of the process for the administration of the laws whereupon decision shall be taken.
In general you – judges – should understand that you have been entrusted with the great responsibility of protecting the rights of the people and must therefore endeavour to serve with a spirit of selflessness and integrity so as to free yourselves from guilty consciousness. We urge you to serve with integrity today so as to set a good precedent for posterity. Endeavour to serve with integrity, always bearing in mind what We have told you in the past and what We are now telling you. Since man has been endowed by the Almighty with the special quality of judging his own self, let alone passing a judgment on others, at the hour of pronouncing judgment he must imagine... finding himself to be in the position of the man in the dock. If one passes a judgment after search of his conscience and careful reflection picturing his own self in the position of he who stands before him for trial, and if he does it with good conscience in the interest of the efficiency of administration of justice, there is no doubt that he will pass the right judgment.
He who stands before you or Us for trial is equally our brother. To think that we may tomorrow find ourselves in his place, that posterity will also find itself in the same difficult situation, in a fundamental applicable to all professions.
As unfairness and loss of faith in justice torments both the body and the soul, we urge you to keep yourselves away from befalling such a calamity. Let the Almighty God engrave these words in the heart of everyone of us.
Aug. 24, 1961.
Selected Speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie – page 417 –