Admissibility of hearsay evidence in criminal trials: an appraisal of the Ethiopian legal framework
Despite Ethiopia following a common law approach regarding evidentiary principles, rules and procedural safeguards in criminal trials, the country does not have a codified and compiled evidence law. This problem might partly be attributable to the difficulty of concepts involved in evidences such as hearsay. Because of inadequacy in the legal framework and absence of explicit provision, there was no clear standing as to the status and admissibility of hearsay. Recently, the FDRE Supreme Court Cassation Bench rules hearsay is regulated in the law and makes it always admissible. However, the plausibility of the court’s decision is questionable starting from the very existence of hearsay as a rule or an exception, and its constitutionality as well. In this article, an attempt is made to appraise admissibility of hearsay evidence in criminal trials in the Ethiopian legal framework. Accordingly, the following vexing issues will be addressed: Pertaining to the legal tradition it has been adopted, what would be the fate of admissibility of hearsay evidence in the country? Does the term “indirect knowledge” under Article 137(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) have something to do with admissibility of hearsay evidence? In light of CPC provisions, what conditions former testimony, preliminary inquiry and confession must meet to escape the ban under the hearsay rule? What significance the confrontation clause of Ethiopian Constitution can offer to the admissibility of hearsay evidence and in solving the thorny issue of permissibility as a rule or as an exception? Finally, in contrast to ordinary crimes, hearsay is clearly admissible in crimes of terrorism in the Ethiopian law, why is this so? And the potential risks will be highlighted.
Keywords: Admissibility, confrontation clause, hearsay evidence, indirect knowledge, hearsay exceptions