A new Electronic Case Management System that will enable the remote filing of applications before the ECOWAS Court by parties and lawyers will become operational during the 2019/2020 legal year of the Court, the Court’s President, Honorable Justice Edward Amoako Asante said on Monday, 30th September 2019.

“I am delighted to report that we have concluded design of an Electronic Case Management System which we expect should go live within the new legal year,” the President said in his opening speech at the legal year.

When operational, the President said the system will end the era when parties and lawyers had to be physically present at the Abuja headquarter of the Court to file their applications with the attendant costs in terms of transportation, accommodation and related costs but could subsequently ‘lodge their applications from the comfort of their homes and offices.’

Justice Asante said the system will also facilitate the caseload management functions of the Judge Rapporteurs and Registry in addition to improving access to the Court which can be further enhanced for indigent citizens with the establishment of a legal aid fund.

‘ It must be noted that a legal aid fund is usually included in the architecture of most Regional Courts which although was included in the Strategic Plan of the Court, could not be implemented because of budgetary constraints,’ the President said at the ceremony which was attended by high level officials of the host government, members of the diplomatic corps and partners

He paid tribute to the present college of judges, who assumed duty following their swearing in on 13st July 2018, for entrusting him with the leadership of the Court and assured them of his determination to discharge the responsibility diligently and conscientiously. He also praised them for the increased tempo in the judicial activities of the Court despite the challenge posed by the reduction in the number of judges from seven to five, the most significant being the difficulty associated with the composition of panels for cases.

‘ The judicial statistics of the Court has shown an increased output since our assumption of office going by the number of judgments and rulings delivered by this college of judges with 95 court sessions held, 28 judgments and eight rulings delivered while 117 cases are pending,’ the President added.

Of the 117 pending cases, the President said 20 have been adjourned for judgment, 40 are undergoing hearing while 77 are undergoing written procedure.

In view of the impact of the reduction of the judges on the effectiveness of the Court, Justice Asante called for the restoration of the number of judges to seven and the staggering of their tenure in order to retain institutional memory critical to the efficient functioning of the Court and in line with its extant instruments.

Furthermore, he said the Court launched its inaugural outreach programme in Cape Verde, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2019 which enabled the Court to engage with its stakeholders in these Member States in order to deepen understanding of the Court and build synergy for improved justice delivery.

Moreover, he said that the Court has made concerted efforts to deepen its relationship with Member States, Community Institutions International/ Regional Courts and Development partners, exemplified by its cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Cross with which it organized a training workshop in March 2019 on International Humanitarian Law.

He also said the judges of the Court participated in a workshop on human rights protection and protection organized by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in furtherance of the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between them while the Institute also fielded a needs assessment mission to the Court to ascertain its needs in the Registry, Research and Documentation.

The President also spoke of the MOU signed by the Court with the Paris-based UNESCO for cooperation in the promotion of freedom of expression, access to public information, safety of journalists and related matters as well as the inaugural judicial dialogue in Abuja between the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the ECOWAS Court in the context of the implementation of their MOU.

The MOU is designed to improve synergy between both Courts and the inaugural judicial dialogue adopted an action plan for its operationalisation.

Justice Asante used the opportunity to express the gratitude of the Court to the Federal Republic of Nigeria for taking necessary steps to address the chronic accommodation challenge confronting the Court and expressed the hope that the promise made to a delegation of the judges during a courtesy call on the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory on 30th September 2016 will materialize this year.

The President said the theme of the legal year, The need for a strong and independent Regional Court for Economic Integration of West Africa,” was intended to draw attention to the value of a strong and independent regional court to the region’s integration project.

Moreover, he said the importance of economic integration as the bedrock of ECOWAS integration will also be explored during an international conference to be hosted by the Court in Accra, Ghana between 21s and 24th October on the theme The Economic Integration of West Africa: Challenges and Prospects.”

The ceremony was the first by the present college of Judges of the Court following their 31st July 2018 swearing in by the then Chairman of the Authority of the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, President Faure Essozinma Gnassingbe of Togo in Lome.