Justice in Yemen: Lack of citizen awareness or shortage of judges? [Archives:2007/1037/Reportage]

March 29 2007

By: Saddam Al-Ashmori
[email protected]

Justice is the basis of judgment and judiciary is the basis for justice; however, the Yemeni judiciary is witnessing deterioration and further suffers lack of control over its work. Such factors defame Yemen's judiciary; thus, many citizens no longer trust it and resort to other means to resolve their problems in order to avoid prolonged court cases. For example, a case requiring just a month will be resolved after a year or more.

“The judiciary is corrupt and not even a judge's directives can arrest an influential enemy,” says Haj Ali Ghalib, “Notary publics steal even your shoes. I gave the directive and YR 2,000 to judicial police to arrest my enemy. They went to him and he gave them YR 5,000, so they returned without arresting him.”

Ghalib adds that he returned to the judge who ordered his enemy's imprisonment; however, he hasn't been brought to court for two years because he's a military official with a lot of money.

He concluded, “Via your newspaper, I ask judges and rulers to make good those who are below them and they must check on poor citizens' cases.”

Ameera Mohammed has a marriage invalidation case and declares that after issuing its ruling, the court told her to initiate her case right from the beginning because such cases are judged only after one year from the husband's absence. “If I had money, I would've finished my case earlier, but I've been chasing after the ruling for two years.”

Attorney Barraq Mohammed Hadi contradicts the above opinions, believing that Yemen's judiciary is improving, especially after recent government measures to make the courts better. However, many challenges are ahead, including appointing judges.

He adds, “The problem is with court procedures. An individual files a case against someone and then must come every day awaiting his case's session. If he asks those responsible about his case's timing, they tell him his session time; thus, he thinks they're delaying his case and then they complain about the judiciary.”

According to Hadi, the problem exists because very few executive courts exist in Yemen, together with the involvement of influential individuals and dignitaries who prevent the execution of rulings issued.

He also maintains that some people accept help from those claiming to be lawyers but aren't. Citizens sometimes file cases in non-specialized courts and when appeals courts discover this, they cancel all previous measures.

Abdullah Al-Hamdhi criticizes judges and court officials for not mentioning a case's defects from the very beginning.

“For a whole year, I've been following up the case of my sister, whose husband left her a year ago, so I filed a case to invalidate her marriage contract. I lost a lot of money and further, left my own business. After a year, they recently told me that I can't request invalidation except after one year. Why didn't they tell me that in the beginning before I lost both my time and money?” Al-Hamdhi questioned.

He's now filing another case because “I have no money to give to notary publics.

“Whoever has money will have his case resolved very soon. Further, I have no background in judiciary,” Al-Hamdhi added.

Ali Al-Taweel abandoned his case after 15 years of trail proceedings due to the lack of execution.

“My father died leaving behind a car and other belongings which my uncles took. When I became an adult, I asked them for my inheritance, but they told me I have nothing. So I headed to court, which ruled in my favor three times. However, these rulings haven't been executed even until now,” Al-Taweel noted.

He maintains that he abandoned his case because he found himself better off than others, who spent a long time following their cases until they sold everything they own. “If your right isn't retrieved here, it won't be lost in the hereafter.”

The head of the Judicial Inspection Authority, Abdullah Farwan, points out that his authority's task is to follow up the courts' work, observe judges' behavior and further evaluate their work. The authority also investigates judges if citizens complain about them.

Farwan notes that the authority comprises four administrations, the first of which is the Complaints Department, which receives citizens' complaints. It received more than 6,000 complaints during 2006, most of which were handled directly, either by contacting the judges by phone or letter. “We tell people what to do because their legal awareness is low,” he added.

Inspection is the authority's second administration, whose main task is to draw up and establish plans and strategies. It further makes field visits and surprise periodic inspections, together with preparing statistics.

The third administration is Judges Affairs, whose main task is to investigate citizen complaints against judges, as well as examine judges' financial and administrative affairs.

The fourth and final administration involves investigations and discipline. This administration is concerned with citizens' complaints and if the matter merits investigation, an accountability council will summon the judge for investigation.

According to Farwan, more than 42 Yemeni judges were investigated last year, some of whom were given oral notice while others were dismissed.

“When the accountability council finds that a judge has committed a clear violation with clear-cut evidence, the council will take legal action against him,” Farwan explained.

The Judicial Inspection Authority believes the problem lies in the shortage of judges. For example, whenever a judge is fired or retires, the authority faces difficulty finding a replacement. Further, the Higher Judiciary Institute closed for eight years following Yemeni reunification in 1990.

Additionally, Sharia graduates require three years' further training at the institute before assuming the post of a penal judge. Farwan admits that the Yemeni judiciary is lacking in assistant judicial staff, notably notary publics and clerks. According to him, the problem is qualitative rather than quantitative.

Regarding those employees who take bribes from citizens, Farwan assures that such practices are done by clerks and administrative assistants who lack conscience, while judges don't know anything about them.

He concludes, “If support continues together with punishment and reward principles, I'm sure we'll create a Yemeni judicial and legal environment providing its citizens their rights via easy and facilitated methods because justice too long delayed is justice denied.”