Reform of Regulation of Legal Practice in Ethiopia: Does It Improve Access to Justice?

Meheret, Tewodros | January 22, 2021

Legal practice has been one of the focus areas of the reform agenda following the appointment of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) as the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia on April 2, 2018 following the resignation of his predecessor. As a response to public discontent which led to the change in leadership, he promised and commenced sweeping changes. Accordingly, working teams were formed under the Advisory Council organized under the auspice of the Attorney General and one of them has been working on regulation of legal practice. It submitted a draft bill to the Office of the Attorney General months back and it is being reviewed by experts of the latter. The draft is expected to be referred to the Cabinet soon. It is worth looking into the existing law to figure out the extent to which the new draft will address the shortcomings of the former in making legal services accessible. One stark criticism against the existing system is that lawyers are licensed and disciplined by the Office of the Attorney General (the former Ministry of Justice), which is a party in all criminal and in some civil cases. The independence of the profession is compromised, which adversely affects the exercise of right to counsel. The new law markedly departs from the existing law as it broadens its scope by introducing new elements such as the establishment and regulation of statutory bar and law firms, and it reforms the existing system such as continuing legal education and pro bono services. Examination of the draft is necessary to determine whether it meets international standards and best practices so as to ensure accessibility, effectiveness, and quality of the service.