Out of Africa: Exploring the Ethiopian Sentencing Guidelines

  • Kassahun Molla Yilma
  • Julian V. RobertsEmail author
Open Access


To date, the literature on sentencing reform has largely focused on western jurisdictions, particularly the United States and Europe. Developments in other parts of the world, particularly on the African continent, have been overlooked. This article explores sentencing in a lesser-known African jurisdiction: Ethiopia. The focus of the essay is upon the issue of structured sentencing. Sentencing in Ethiopia, like most jurisdictions, has historically been a very discretionary stage of the criminal process. That has now changed with the introduction of a comprehensive guideline scheme. Although sentencing guidelines in the US and England and Wales have been the subject of much critical scrutiny, nonwestern guidelines have attracted very little attention from scholars. Although there are parallels between the structure of the Ethiopian system and guidelines in other countries, there are also important differences. Since they are more developed than guidelines in adjacent countries, the Ethiopian guidelines constitute a model for other regional nations, including those with a post-colonial legacy. After providing an overview of sentencing in Ethiopia, the article describes the origin, nature, and consequences of the Ethiopian guidelines. The guidelines provide sentence ranges for different levels of seriousness for many crimes, and also prescribe a methodology to guide courts sentencing for offences for which no such guidance exists. They also provide some structure for the judicial use of mitigating and aggravating factors at sentencing. We conclude by identifying some deficiencies of the current guidelines and propose some specific remedies.


Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Legal ResearcherAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Law SchoolJimma UniversityJimmaEthiopia
  3. 3.Faculty of LawUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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