Court to retain the use of virtual technology for court sessions beyond the COVID-19 pandemic

West Africa’s regional court, the Community Court of Justice, will continue to conduct virtual court sessions and entertain the e-filing of cases beyond the Covid-19 pandemic in order to leverage the platform to reach ECOWAS citizens, particularly those who could otherwise not afford to approach the Court.

In a statement on Tuesday, 27th July 2021 at the opening of a delocalized meeting of a joint committee of the ECOWAS Parliament in Winneba near Accra, Ghana, the President of the Court, Justice Edward Amoako Asante said that although its introduction was Covid-induced, the deployment of the virtual technology has been determined to improve access to the Court.

However, he said the Court will continue to conduct physical court sessions on application by any of the parties in the spirit of the new practice direction and to ensure that we remain faithful to our core values while acknowledging the utility of Telecommunications and Information Technology (TIT).

Although a child of necessity, the President said the “resort to virtual court sessions has opened a new vista for improving access to justice for citizens, particularly indigent citizens who would otherwise be constrained from approaching the Court because of the implicit cost.”

Justice Asante said: “the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic during the first quarter of 2020 which impaired the judicial functions of the Court compelled it to resort to virtual court sessions in order to continue to discharge its mandate while ensuring fidelity with the demands of its concomitant Protocol.”

Moreover, he said for a “Court with a limited number of judges, compared to its burgeoning case load, it was imperative to find a window that enables it to effect a dent on the backlog of cases in order to continue to ensure the timely delivery of justice, a core expectation of applicants.”

He told the meeting, which is being held under the theme The Role of Telecommunications and Information Technology (TIT) in achieving Regional Development, Peace, Security and Human Rights, that the introduction of the technology compelled the Court update its practice direction which digitized some aspects of the operations of the Registry, mainly the methodology for accessing, initiating and litigating in the Court. 

Beyond enabling it to function in a Covid-19 constrained environment, Justice Asante listed the benefits of the virtual technology to include improved access to justice; improve efficiency of the judges and the Court; strengthen public trust and confidence; facilitate the sharing of case information and ensure the electronic filing of case related materials.

As part of its adaptation mechanism, he said the Court also aligned its operational procedures with the requirements of the updated practice direction and recently concluded a retreat to develop an operations manual that enabled staff of its Registry to upscale their skills in response to the demands of the direction.

The President is scheduled to deliver a paper on The impact of TIT on the operations of judicial systems in Member States to the 30-member joint committee on Political Affairs, Peace, Security and African Peer Review Mechanism.