ECOWAS Court decries planned reduction of judges

Adoba Echono

ECOWAS court of Justice members.

The ECOWAS Court of Justice has decried the reduction of judges of the community from seven to five.

The President of the Court, Justice Jerome Traore said the decision of the ECOWAS authorities to reduce the number of judges in the regional court from seven would hinder the expeditious dispensation of justice.

Speaking at the ongoing 9th judicial retreat in Nasarawa State, Nigeria, Justice Traore is of the view that it was pertinent to strengthen the Court to ensure effectiveness in its functions, rather than reducing the number of its judges.

“The institutional reforms announced in Monrovia, during the recent statutory meetings held in June 2017, does not augur well for the development of community justice in our sub regional space,’’ Justice Traore explained.

According to him, it is a paradox that this was the time chosen to proceed with a reduction in the number of judges from seven currently, to only five, if the envisaged reforms were implemented.

“At a time when more litigants are coming before the court, it becomes more necessary than ever to strengthen our court and surround it with all the guarantees of independence and efficiency,’’ he said.

Justice Traore stated that part of the aim of the retreat would be to deliberate on the reforms and come up with measures to “reverse” the decision to reduce the number of judges.

Setting up national authorities
On the enforcement of the courts judgements, Justice Traore emphasised the need for member states to set up national authorities responsible for enforcing the decisions of the court.

Justice Traore said that the enforcement of the court’s decisions by member states remained a challenge.

He further said that only Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea had appointed national authorities to ensure enforcement of the court’s decisions.

“The court delivers judgement and according to our regulations, it is the member states who should appoint a national authority to execute the decisions delivered by the court of justice…This is one of the challenges the court faces because we are expecting all member states to appoint the authorities in charge of enforcing the decisions of the court but so far only four member states have done so.

“It is true that the court cannot exercise a sort of force to bring member states to appoint national authorities,” Justice Traore stated.

Justice Traore explained that there was provision to address refusal of member states to enforce the decisions of the court.

“In case a country refuses to fulfil this obligation, there is a way out; and that is, any citizen in this situation can address their application to the president of the commission which would be addressed to the Council of Ministers and then to the Heads of State,’’ he added.

The Chief Registrar of the Community Court, Mr Tony Anene-Maidoh, however, said that the court had yet to receive an official proposal to on the reduction of judges of the court from seven to five.

Mr. Anene-Maidoh further explained that there were ongoing institutional reforms across all ECOWAS institutions aimed at saving costs.

“We have been reliably informed that there is a proposal to reduce the number of the judges of the court from seven to five; we are still waiting for the proposal to be communicated to the court officially, but we intend to respond,’’ Mr. Anene-Maidoh disclosed.

Decrying the reduction of judges in ECOWAS Court, Mr. Anene-Maidoh explains that the new proposal is very devastating for the court because a time that calls for the establishment of an appellate chamber within the court is not a time to contemplate reduction.

Judges are statutory appointees
“Judges are statutory appointees and there is a decision by the ECOWAS authorities to reduce the number of statutory appointees to save cost,” he said.

Mr. Anene-Maidoh stressed that the court was currently not satisfied with the tenure of the judges and urged for a review in line with global best practices.

“Initially it was five years which could be renewed; it was reduced to four years, non-renewable and this does not happen in other international tribunals and is not in the interest of the community or the court,’’ he stated.

On the retreat, Mr. Anene-Maidoh said that it aimed at examining the functioning of the court in view of the ongoing institutional reforms.

He also said the meeting would review the recommendations of past judicial retreats for implementation to further strengthen the effectiveness of the court.

The 9th judicial retreat has as its theme as “The ECOWAS Court of Justice: Prospects for Growth”.

Other objectives include deliberations on the organisation and automation of court processes, collaboration with other institutions and the enforcement of the decisions of the court.

Mercy Chukwudiebere