Examining the Relevance of Ignorance of Law in Ethiopian Criminal Law: Emphasis on Its Role as a Mitigating Circumstance

  • Dejene Girma Janka
Keywords: Crimes, criminal law, ignorance of law, defence, mitigation, punishment


Ignorance of law excuses no one is a maxim everyone is expected to be familiar with. Consequently, ignorance of law is not a defence in most legal systems. However, ignorance of law could entail exemption from punishment in some cases. It can also be used as a mitigating circumstance. This being the position in most legal systems, the purpose of this article is to examine the relevance of ignorance of law in Ethiopia both as a defence and as a mitigating factor. To accomplish that, relevant literature has been reviewed to identify scholarly positions and the experiences of some countries on the relevance of ignorance of law both as a defence and as a mitigating ground, pertinent Ethiopian laws have been analysed, data has been obtained from limited number of lawyers to get a clue on how they view the relevance of ignorance of law, and some cases in which issues of ignorance of law were entertained have been consulted. Based on this, the article has concluded that ignorance of law is as, a rule, prohibited from serving as a defence in Ethiopia although it can lead to exoneration in exceptional cases. Nonetheless, due to some unique realities existing on the ground in Ethiopia, ignorance of law can lead to exculpation of many people from punishment, particularly those living in the rural areas. Moreover, although the position of the Criminal Code is not explicit regarding the relevance of ignorance of law as mitigating circumstance, close scrutiny of relevant provisions shows that the Code actually leaves sufficient room to use it as a mitigating circumstance.