The President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, Justice Edward Amoako Asante has challenged members of the Bar association of Cote d’Ivoire to set up a mechanism for providing free legal assistance to Ivoirians who may wish to approach the court for the protection of their human rights but who cannot afford the legal cost.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of a Special Forum for Lawyers and Law students organized by the Court in Abidjan, the resident explained that such legal aid will help improve access to justice for this category of citizens who could otherwise be denied the opportunity to avail themselves of the remedy offered by the Court for the violation of their human rights.

Only 18 cases have been filed by citizens of the Community in Cote d’Ivoire since 2009 when the first case was filed from the country.

He assured the participants at the Wednesday, 19th February 2020 forum that the Court was working on a regional legal aid scheme for such indigent citizens as well as other initiatives to improve access such as the operationalization of its E filing platform to enable the remote filing of cases without having to come to the headquarter of the Court in Abuja.

“ The Court is also working towards reviving its moot court programme in 2020 that was suspended some years ago for logistic reasons and hope that this and other initiatives will help deepen the knowledge of Community Law among the relevant stakeholders,’ the President added.

He expressed optimism that by institutionalizing the programme, the Court will be demonstrating its determination to ground law students in Community law and equip them better for practice, particularly with the Court.

Justice Asante explained that the forum was designed to address the specific needs of lawyers and students as the Court has noticed from experience that many lawyers are not familiar with the Court’s and that the presentation will be useful particularly for those who want to practice before the Court.

Moreover, he said it will deepen the lawyers, law lecturers and students participating in the programme, the human rights jurisprudence of the Court, assuring them that the Court is disposed to collaborating with them in this endeavor as it will help to strengthen understanding of Community Law among these critical stakeholders.

In order to respond to the needs of this category of stakeholders, he said that the programme has been structured to respond to their interest and focused on the mandate and jurisdiction of the Court, practice and procedure of the Court, how to file cases before the Court and representation before the Court, privileges and immunities of lawyers.

Earlier, the President of the bar association, Barrister N’dri Thomas had praised the Court for organizing the campaign describing it as a useful tool for deepening the knowledge of the participants on the Court, Community law and human rights which has become the defining mandate of the Court.

“As principal actors in the public service of justice, the campaign reminds us of the unexplored areas that will broaden our horizon, particularly in the area of human rights,” he added.

The delegation of the Court to the outreach, which also included the other judges and staff, later visited the National Council on Human Rights of Cote d’Ivoire where they were received by its President, Madam Namizata Sangare who briefed the delegation on the activities of the Council.

She said that the Council was involved with all ramifications of human rights, including the rights of foreigners and those in prison and that it publishes an annual report that is widely circulated to the high authorities of the country on the state of human rights in the country.

The President of the Court had explained that the delegation was in the country for a five day campaign to improve awareness of the court among stakeholders as part of its engagement with community citizens and in furtherance of its new initiative of the outreach programme to address the shortcomings of its other visibility platforms.

In this regard, he said that the Court has already undertaken the campaign in three countries- Cape Verde, Liberia and Sierra Leone- in 2019 while four others are scheduled for Senegal, Guinea and Niger later in the year.