ECOWAS Court of Justice decries planned reduction of judges

Adoba Echono

President of the court, Justice Jérôme Traoré
The ECOWAS Court of Justice has urged civil society organisations in West Africa to sensitise citizens in the region on the benefits of the court and the need to increase the number of judges instead of the planned reduction of judges of the community court.

President of the court, Justice Jérôme Traoré who made the call at the close of the ninth judicial retreat of the court in Nasarawa state in north central Nigeria, said that the call formed part of the recommendations of the retreat.

He said that the civil society needed to share in the responsibility of enlightening people on the benefits of the court following the proposal of the authorities to reduce the number of judges.

“The retreat made recommendations to review the decision by the political arm of ECOWAS to reduce the number of judges because cases are increasing at the court,” explained Justice Traoré.

“There is this project of having an appeal chamber and according to the treaty; the court of justice can play the role of the court of arbitration.”

“With all these elements, we believe that the civil society, NGOs, the jury should take ownership of the decision and make the society understands it is for the advantage of everybody to maintain the number of judges and if possible, increase the number.”

Justice Traoré also said that the court had also recommended for effective sensitisation on the need for member states to set up national body to ensure the enforcement and execution of the court’s decisions, to strengthen the institution and enhance the confidence and trust of the public in the community court.

On his part, the Director, Research, Communication and Documentation of the court, Mr. Usman Diallo, said that the court had eighty seven pending cases and would not cope with a reduction in the number of judges.

“According to Diallo, when the commission had nine commissioners, the court had seven judges; when the numbers of commissioners were increased to fifteen the court remained with seven judges.”

“If they want to review this and bring the number of commissioners back to nine, the same does not have to apply to the number of judges.”

He explained that further recommendations made to strengthen the court included a follow-up on the study to establish an appellate chamber of the court.

“There is a recommendation by the Council of Ministers directing the ECOWAS Commission to conduct a study in order to establish an appellate chamber within the court.”

“We have never seen the report; one of the recommendations from this retreat is to go back to the commission to find out the outcome and follow up to know the next step to take.

“The judges are careful but they are human and can make errors, so it is important that we have an appellate jurisdiction that can look at what has been done by the first chamber.”

He said that the meeting also recommended the establishment of sub-registries to strengthen the institution and “bring justice closer to the people.”

The judge added that modalities were also being developed to enable people to electronically file cases before the court from their different member states.

The ninth judicial retreat had as its theme “The ECOWAS Court of Justice: Prospects for Growth.