One of Ghana’s Foremost Lawyers Advocates Integration of West Africa’s Legal Systems

A former lecturer at Ghana School of Law, Mr. Ace Anan Ankomah has proposed the integration of the legal systems of Member States in order to ensure the uniform applicability, interpretation and enforcement of Community law and as a precondition for the successful economic and political integration of the region.

By integrating the legal systems, Mr. Ankomah said the region will be standardizing the legal environment which is imperative in resolving the inevitable tension implicit in the co-existence of Community and national laws in regulating the lives of ECOWAS citizens as well as between the different national laws, the municipal and Community Laws.

Consequently, Mr. Ankomah, who is a Managing Partner in Ghana’s largest private law firm, Bentsi-Enchill, Letsa and Ankomah, said there was the need to take a variety of steps including a clear agreement on the hierarchy of laws within ECOWAS which will have the effect of limiting state sovereignty so that Community law is recognized as superior to Municipal law.

This, he explained in a paper at the 2019 international conference of the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Accra, would require the establishment of a Community legal order that recognizes the primacy of the Community Court at the apex of the hierarchy as part of a three-pronged strategy that will bolster integration through the law.

‘National courts would rely on and be bound by the interpretation given by the ECOWAS Court of Justice on the provisions of Community law to ensure consistent interpretation of that law while Member States would be able to invoke and rely on Community Law before their national courts,’ he said in his paper on Integration of the Economic Community of West African States through the Law.

The other elements of the strategy, he added, will require the provision of legal education on Community law within Member States and avenues to enforce the judgments of the ECOWAS Court in national courts as well as facilitate cross border judgments from the national courts of Member States.

In this regard, he called for the incorporation of Community law into the legal and diplomatic training in Member States that will create awareness, encourage acceptance and facilitate better interaction of ECOWAS citizens. Such a measure, he added, will create a niche specialization among lawyers within the region on community law, issues and disputes; create an enabling environment for cross border legal practice that will enhance competition and the quality of legal practice.

He also spoke on the exasperating issue of the enforcement of the decisions of the Court and recommended that in the absence of a uniform practice among Member States on the status of Community law and how it applies in each country, the Court might need to explore one of two options for developing a workable enforcement regime for its decisions.

These include the direct applicability principle, an European Law that enables individuals to immediately invoke a European provision before a national or European Court based on the premise that the founding Treaty of the Union create legal rights that could be enforced before the courts of Community Member States as long as it is clear and precisely stated, not conditional and confers a specific right.

Secondly, he contended that the Court could also explore the preferred option of developing a multi-lateral reciprocal enforcement Treaty or Convention that will be ratified by all the Member States most of which ‘enforce foreign judgments on the basis of reciprocity.

‘A multilateral treaty-based enforcement regime would aid integration within the Community,’ he said, adding that the Organisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) structure applicable in Francophone Member States is not only ‘instructive,’ but provides ‘viable blueprint for enforcing Community and judgments of the Court of Justice and other Court judgments in Member States.’

The four-day conference was held on the theme Economic Integration of West Africa: challenges and prospects,’’ and brought together judges and staff of the Court, Chief Justices of Member States, Heads of ECOWAS National Units, ECOWAS Ambassadors and members of the academia who discussed the theme under seven sub themes.