Ahead of its resumption of hearings today, judges and workers of the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met for several days last week to work out ways of enhancing its operations.
They met at the court’s seventh judges’ retreat and the 10th judicial retreat, both of which held separately, at the Goshen City, Nasarawa State.
New judges of the court were sworn in on July 31 for a tenure of four years. They assumed duties on August 27.
The judges also considered the court’s 2019 draft budget and witnessed the presentation of the new digital case management system being developed by the court towards computerising its case management system and enabling online filing.
The judges include the President, Justice Edward Amoako Asante (from Ghana), Vice President, Honorable Justice Gberi-Be Ouattara (Cote d’Ivoire), Justice Dupe Atoki (Nigeria), Justice Keikura Bangura (Sierra Leone) and Justice Januaria Silva Moreira Costa (Cape Verde).
At the judicial retreat, with the theme: “The jurisprudence of the ECOWAS Court of Justice: 2004 to 2018,” participants were taken through the court’s past decisions, its growing responsibilities, particularly as it relates to its bourgeoning human rights jurisdiction.
They also examined measures to improve the court’s operations, ease access to the litigating public, particularly the indigent.
The retreat, which frowned at member state’s reluctance to enforce the court’s decisions, the recent reduction in the number of its judges from seven to five and the shortage of personnel, resolved to work assiduously to overcome the challenges posed by these developments.
Presentations at the retreat included: “Jurisprudence of the ECOWAS Court of Justice on access to the court; an overview of the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Court of Justice; human rights in the jurisprudence of the court; non-exhaustion of local remedies as a distinctive feature of the ECOWAS Court of Justice human rights mandate” and “an analysis of the Community Legal Order as declared by the ECOWAS Court of Justice.”
The retreat also explored topics like: “State responsibility, sources of law and the application of Article 38 of the International Court of Statute by the ECOWAS Court; preliminary procedure, expedited procedure, provisional measures, consolidation and withdrawal/discontinuance in the practice and procedure of the ECOWAS Court of Justice; default judgment, revision, interpretation of judgement and supplementary judgement in the Jurisprudence of the ECOWAS Court of Justice.’
There were also presentations on the “written and oral procedure, pleadings, witnesses and expert standard of proof and the role of the judge rapporteur in the practice and procedure of the ECOWAS Court of Justice,” and “‘Improving the image of the court.”
At the opening session of the judicial retreat, Justice Asante said the retreat was intended as an opportunity for the court’s judges and staff to reflect on the various issues that impact on the court and its effectiveness.
He regretted the reduction in the number of the court’s judges and the delay being experienced in the delay in the translation of court processes into the three working languages of the court – English, French and Portuguese. He noted that about 107 cases were currently awaiting hearing, while many more would still be filed.
Asante expressed displeasure that member states were not honouring their obligation under Article 24 of the 2005 Supplementary Protocol on the court, which required each state to determine the competent national authority for the receipt and processing of execution of the judgements of the court in accordance with the rules of civil procedure in each state.
He noted that only five of the 15 ECOWAS member states- Burkina Faso, Guinea, Nigeria, Mali and Togo- have notified the court of the designation of the focal points for the enforcement of the decisions of the court.
Asante, who disclosed that judges, at their retreat, (which preceded the judicial retreat) promised to give their best, noted that the court, between April 2004 and October 2018, delivered 318 decisions, comprising 190 judgments, 105 rulings,18 revision judgments and five advisory opinions.
He praised the court for its achievement so far, stressing: “Undoubtedly, the court has interpreted and applied numerous provisions in its Rules of Procedure and the Protocol on the court as amended. Through its decisions, the court has developed a rich jurisprudence on its practice and procedure and its human rights mandate.”
The court’s president urged all staff to be committed to duty and aid the court in the effective execution of its mandate.
When the curtain dropped on the retreat on October 27, participants were elated about the outcome of the week-long exercise. They said the objectives of the programme were achieved.
They called for enhanced funding, provision of adequate working facilities, including a befitting structure for the court. They also stressed the need for more personnel, particularly translators, to allow prompt translation of court processes into the court’s three languages, to address the current delay caused by the slow pace of translation.
Asante, who expressed delight at the success of the retreat, said the court was working on ways to ensure that its decisions were enforced. He noted that the non-enforcement of the court’s decisions has negatively impacted on public’s estimation of the court.
He said: “We are now working on measures to allow individuals come before the court to enforce judgments given in their favour.” According to him, the process will require that a judgment creditor is allowed to initiate a fresh suit to enforce the judgment, where the state is reluctant.
The court will then award certain compensation in favour of the individual, and as a result, the judgment debtor state is made to lose certain facilities it has in the commission (ECOWAS).
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