By Lizzy Okoji
Abuja – Prof. Muhammed Ladan, Director, Legislative Support Service, National Institute for Legislative and democratic Studies has called for the establishment of an appellate Chamber of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (ECCJ).
Ladan made the call on Monday in Abuja during the opening Ceremony of the 2019 to 2020 Legal year of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the theme of the New Legal Year is “The need for a strong and Independent Regional Court for the Economic Integration of West Africa”.
Ladan said that the establishment of an appellate Court would be in line with the theme of the new Legal year which is geared towards a stronger and more independent regional Court.
According to Ladan, the right of appeal is a fundamental right and it must be noted that the 2018 new organogram of the court reflects the intentions for the creation of an appellate division of the Court.
“It is the best interest of all of us that the upper appellate chambers of the court be created.
“The need to establish an appellate court is in line with the 2006 agreement by the ECOWAS Council of Ministers in other to avail litigants of their fundamental human right of appeal.
“The right of appeal is a fundamental human right which is a cardinal principle of the ECOWAS revised treaty.
“ The court is not asking ECOWAS member states to do it a favor, it is rather promoting what member states have already agreed on as part of their cardinal principles in the revised ECOWAS treaty for it to move the sub region forward.
“What the court needs is the support of the ECOWAS Commission, Member States and ECOWAS Judicial Council to support the implementation faithfully of this organogram”, Ladan said.
Ladan said that in achieving a stronger and more independent regional court, there was need to have a second phase of the court beyond its human rights jurisprudence which the regional Court is known with success stories.
He explained that the second phase should pilot the affairs of the community in the context of investment, trade and competition as well as harmoniing business laws.
“Given ECOWAS broad economic integration objectives and programmes of the ECCJ since 1975 and the court powers since 2001 and yet, it is little known outside its human right jurisprudence and success stories.
“The ECOWAS Court of Justice has the potential of serving as forum or tribunal for the settlement of some disputes between foreign investors and host member states .
“The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice power to act as the Community Arbitration Tribunal is yet to be functionally activated or utilized.
“It is in the law that the ECOWAS court of Justice in the absence of an Arbitration Tribunal can for now serve as an Arbitration Tribunal.
“But for two decades, this particular clause has not been triggered. To test the court before it can be tested as an investment and trade tribunal,” Ladan said.
Ladan called on the ECOWAS Commission and Member States to address the challenges experienced by the Court which je explained would impede judgment.
Similarly, Mr Paul Usoro,SAN, President of the Nigerian Bar association called for the establishment of an appeal chamber of the ECCJ.
Usoro who was represented by a Member of the Association, Mr Ofiong Ofiong, SAN, said that it was worrisome that judgment passed in the court could not be appealed.
He commended theme of the new legal year which he said could not have come at a better time than now when the Community is in dire need of an independent court to foster regional integration.
He said that the independence of the regional court was no doubt an indispensable ingredient in achieving a desired economic integration, one of the core objectives of ECOWAS.
Usoro also commended the judges of the court for the successes of their judgments reglarless of the numerous challenges facing the court.
Earlier, Mr Tony Anene, Registrar of the Court listed some of the challenges of the ECCJ to include reduction of the numbers of judges from seven to five.
Anene said that the reduction of the judges creates difficulties in the composition of panels to hear cases and it was coming at a time of increased work loads.
“It is also of grave concern that the tenure of judges was reduced from five years renewable to four-years non-renewable.
“And the tenure of the members of the court is no longer staggered as was envisaged under the 1991 protocol on the Court.
“Another major challenge that the court is having is the reduction of translators from nine to six in the 2018 organogram of the Court.
“Another concern of the court is the enforcement of judgment on Member States, Institution, individuals and Coporate bodies.
“The level of compliance or enforcement of the judgment of the Court is worrisome”, Anene said. (NAN)