The Community Court of Justice, often referred to as the ECOWAS Court, is heading to Ghana to pitch its judicial camp at the Law Court Complex in Accra from March 21 to April 1, 2022.
The court is currently headed by a Ghanaian Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Edward Amoako Asante. But the nationality of the President of the ECOWAS Court is not the reason it will be moving to Ghana to hear cases and deliver judgments.
This isn’t the first time the court is moving justice closer to the people of ECOWAS. It has, since 2007, heard cases outside its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria.
The court held its first external session in Mali in 2007 and has since held external sessions in Burkina Faso, Benin Republic and Ibadan in Nigeria. The court has also held external sessions in Togo, Guinea Bissau, Mali and two sessions in Cote d’Ivoire.
The court adopted the initiative to bring justice closer to the citizens of the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS). However, Covid-19 struck and compelled the judicial arm of the sub-regional body to hear cases virtually and deliver its judgments. This took away the hurdle of distance and the cost of travelling to Abuja, which necessitated the external sessions as respite to litigants.
But there is still a good reason to continue with external hearings, according to the court’s President, Justice Edward Amoako Asante.
“The Community’s citizens must also know about the court in their countries,” he told The Fourth Estate in an interview. “They must hear and know the procedures before the court, the mandate of the court, the existence of the court, and so many things that must be done.”
Justice Asante said the external sessions were part of an outreach programme the court was embarking on.
Cases to be heard in Ghana
The ECOWAS Court is expected to hear 60 cases while in Ghana. Some of the cases have been heard. The court will, therefore, deliver 25 judgments while in Ghana.
There are currently two cases pending against Ghana at the ECOWAS Court. One of them is titled Transparency International & 2 Ors Vs Republic of Ghana. It is a case of human rights violation against the plaintiff, according to information on the website of the ECOWAS Court.
The second case against Ghana is the controversial Agyapa royalties deal, which would see Ghana selling 76% of future gold royalties to a Jersey-based offshore company. The transaction has been described by Ghana’s civil society as opaque and not in the interest of the country.
The Agyapa case is not ripe for hearing, according to the President of the ECOWAS Court, but the one filed by Transparency International and others against Ghana will be heard on March 23, 2022 in Accra.
The court has made provision for the media and the general public to follow proceedings live on Zoom and YouTube because of the limited numbers that can be allowed in the courtroom.
Strides Made by ECOWAS Court
When the government of Nigeria banned Twitter, some Nigerians sued the country at the ECOWAS Court. They argued that the ban of the social media platform was their infringement of their human rights. The ECOWAS Court ruled in their favour and the Nigerian government eventually defroze the platform.
In 2017, the court made a similar ruling against the Togolese government and the country has since kept its hands off social media.
About 90% of the cases that go to the ECOWAS Court are human rights related, Justice Asante said.
The court has also ruled in cases of murder and human rights abuse of Gambian journalists in the erstwhile Yahaya Jameh era. The Gambian government, according to Justice Asante, has complied with the ruling by paying reparations and committing to amend its internal laws, as ordered by the ECOWAS court.
He said the court was unable to enforce some of its rulings, but it largely provided the avenue for citizens of ECOWAS to seek legal redress outside their countries. He said the rules of the court did not require their citizens to exhaust the legal avenues in their own countries.
That, he said, was particularly helpful because some member states of ECOWAS did not have the systems that ensured expedient delivery of justices, especially when it is against the state.
About the ECOWAS Court
The Community Court of Justice was created pursuant to the provisions of Articles 6 and 15 of the 1993 ECOWAS Revised Treaty as the principal legal organ of the Community.
The court’s website says it “is composed of five (5) independent Judges who are persons of high moral character, appointed by the Authority of Heads of State of Government, from nationals of Member States for a four-year non-renewable term upon the recommendation of the Community Judicial Council.”
“The Court is composed of five independent judges chosen from among persons of high moral character, who must be nationals of ECOWAS Member States and must possess the qualifications for appointment to the Supreme Court or the highest judicial office, or are jurisconsults of recognized competence in international law, especially community law or law of regional integration. In addition, they must have at least twenty years professional experience. They have a four-year term non-renewable. Judges or members of the Court cannot be regarded as representatives of their governments or government of any other ECOWAS member state.”