In Somaliland, the judiciary – like other institutions – had to be started from the scratch after the demise of central Somali government in 1991. Many a times, the successive governments have made a great deal of efforts to improve the justice sector since then; but unfortunately much has not been realised thus fur as this sector needs a substantial reform.
On responding to the public outcry on Somaliland justice system, which has been in poor state of affair for so long, the current Somaliland President nominated a new Chief Justice in May 2015. The CJ has been selected from the academia, while also at the same time was serving as the president’s legal adviser. The President, after closely consulting with the High Judicial Commission and considering the level of education, professional experience and good character of the appointee, he nominated Adam H. Ali as the Chairman of Somaliland Supreme Court.
The nomination of Adan has been widely welcomed across Somaliland, particularly the civil society. This is partly because that any changes or reshuffles made by the president on the justice system are of greater alarm to the entire nation and this move in particular has attracted many people who knew Adan as someone who could make a commendable progress.
The CJ has already started to head on some of the problems and challenges accumulated over the years. Some of the challenges are huge backlog of cases that were not addressed for a long time. In a recent interview with the local media, the CJ spoke over 300 pending cases in the Supreme Court that he started to process.
In Somaliland, the judiciary is one the most neglected and under-funded of the three branches of the government. Therefore one can confidently deduce from here that much work is to be done by the new Chief Justice to address the numerous challenges that the system has been facing for the last couple of decades.
Indeed, one of the first steps the CJ has taken has enormously improved the image of the Justice system in Somaliland. Up until now the Court was seen by many of being subservient to the executive branch of the State. The recent decision of the CJ about the restrictions the government imposed on the opposition parties postively impacted on the prestige of the High Court. The decision of the CJ saved the country from a political strife which could have resulted in a sort of a conflict. Nonetheless, the CJ faces an uphill task to fulfill all his anticipated reforms on justice sector. Among the key challenges that the new CJ faces is the limited number of trained manpower, especially at the lower courts-the courts of first instance, a shortage of logistics, and inadequate infrastructure in terms of office spaces. .
On the other hand, there are currently no criteria or examinations for employing judges. This will be a great confront to the new CJ because every new intervention has its own resistance that mainly come from the people who benefited the status quo.
Another issue that will be of concern for the new CJ is the transparent dispensation of justice in the interest for everyone no matter what his or her status in the society. There is a perception among the people that the law best serves the rich. Cases tend to move very slowly, drawing accusations that justice is not the objective of the process. For that reason, if the CJ can adequately deal with these issues, doubtless to say that the public will have explicit confidence in the judicial process.
Unlike other senior government officials, judges do not enjoy physical protection (for example, security guards) and are thus vulnerable to harassment by members of the public. The new Chief justice does not have enough security personnel and this may threaten his life particularly at times of political crisis in the county.
There is widespread distrust among the people for the justice system. Many say there is corruption perpetrated by the judges. The CJ is now planning to change many judges who are accused of legal malpractices. The challenge for the CJ is how to put a transparent system in place that rewards the best judges while declining the bad ones. To do that it will be necessary to make a proper evaluation by competent and independent organs within the system.
Mr. Adan H. Ali, while giving an exclusive interview to Horn Cable Television (HCTV), he emphasized the need to establish a close but a nurturing relationship with the enforcement bodies in Somaliland like the police so that fair verdict is achieved. Adan mentioned that without enough prison facilities and personnel, and without proper coordination between the police, prosecutors and courts, there will be inefficiencies and delays. His request came after realizing that the police are vulnerable to outside pressures and many people convicted before the courts do not serve out their sentences.
To sum up, while the reforms to the judiciary are very welcome – and long overdue – they will not make as much of an impact as they could unless there are broader reforms of the judicial sector as a whole. The new Chief Justice therefore needs to uphold himself and aim at higher to reform justice system and play a key role to addressing above challenges.
The justice sector is connected to other critical stakeholders such as the prosecuting authorities, penal institutions and the police – and even the national executive and parliament which put forward and approve budgetary allocations for the justice sector. Thus, while reforms of the judiciary are moving in the right direction, there is need to ensure that complementary reforms to take place within the other institutions in order to ensure effective delivery of justice.
Since the independence of the judiciary sector is of a paramount importance, their budget should not be in the hands of the Minister of Justice. How the CJ reforms will encompass financial independence of the judiciary through legislative means is yet to be seen. If that is done it will be a huge leap for Somaliland justice.
It is better that the judges are well-equipped with the skills and qualifications that are basically necessary for the achieving improved justice system in all across the country. I suggest that the judges should be selected on merit-basis prior to employment as a judge. In collaboration with non-governmental organizations, the new Chief Justice has to play a key role in dealing with them and finding opportunities for his judges to get advanced trainings on areas of case analysis, law of evidence, appeals training, to mention but a few.
If judges are to be well-capacitated, the CJ has to recommend the courts to recruit supporting staff in accordance with employment rules and guidelines established by the Civil Service Commission. On this regard, the government has to leave a stone unturned in providing the necessary equipment, facilities and financial needs of the courts in order that they may perform effectively.
The idea that the membership of the High Judicial council is supposed to be having a law background is equally important. Because this will improve the working relationships of the members and will help them better serve for the country.
To address the issues of corruption and nepotism that has been witnessed in Somaliland justice system, the new CJ has a long way to walk to increase the judge salaries and allowance which is now very low. Hence this will safeguard them against any interference in the justice procedures from outside.
Lastly, for the justice to be delivered in fairly and timely manner, women who are the heart of Somaliland society must have a place in the judiciary decision making. Their inclusion into the justice system will make an overall progress in the justice system.
By Abdikadir Askar
Communications Manager, Horizon Institute (at the time of writing)