In the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, the co-existence of local, religious and state legal orders that are entangled in multiple ways becomes especially visible in the arena of family law, where local and religious laws are the predominant normative regulatory tools. In navigating legal pluralism as well as in dealing with the influence of state law (which is in fact rather marginal), governmental actors have experimented with different techniques of governance to co-regulate local and religious conflict resolution mechanisms.
This chapter demonstrates how Ethiopian governmental actors seek to take advantage of the plural legal realities of the highly contested family law arena in order to position themselves as ‘wardens’ of plurality. Accordingly, for the first time in Ethiopian legal history, the application of Islamic law by the Sharia courts on specified personal and family matters has been accorded constitutional recognition. Currently, the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia of 1995 recognises Islamic law as well as jurisdiction and thus provides a legal frame in which this normative order is ‘permitted’ to operate. Unlike in state courts, the consent of both disputing parties to be adjudicated in these judicial forums is a precondition for the jurisdiction of Sharia courts. As a result of state actors’ efforts to ensure legal certainty and procedural justice, the state-funded Sharia courts are under legal obligation to apply only the state Civil Procedure Code of Ethiopia as procedural law. In addition, the power to review final judicial decisions as well as of constitutional interpretation rests with state organs.
This chapter outlines the interdependent relationships between Sharia courts and state courts. As will be shown, Ethiopian state legal pluralism not only inherently leads to tensions and conflicts of norms, but also to negotiations and mutual adaptation processes as reactions to divergent legal concepts. Moreover, various normative and institutional mechanisms of solving norm conflicts can be identified at various judicial levels. Finally, I will demonstrate that the plural judicial arrangements and the implementation of state regulations leave various problems unsolved.