Participants at African Bar Association conference exposed to various aspects of ECOWAS Court

Participants at the ongoing annual conference of the African Bar Association Niamey, the Republic of Niger were on Wednesday, 6th October 2021 provided an insight into the practice and procedures of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice by a senior official of the Court.

Mr Fernand Kouassi, the Executive Assistant to the Vice President of the Court characterized practice and procedures as a guarantee of the good administration of justice, noting that those of the ECOWAS Court are similar to those of other international courts but significantly different from those of national courts.

He described the terms ‘practice’ and ‘procedure’ as two complementary concepts with the former entailing the manner of carrying out/actualising defined acts before the Court while the latter defines acts in the life of a case as contained in the texts of the Court, both of which must be complied with by parties appearing before the Court.

“As we can see, practice and procedure constitute two sides of the same reality, except that procedure is theoretical and practice is the translation of this theory into concrete acts,” he said.

He told the participants that both practice and procedure before the Court are governed by the 1993 Revised Treaty of ECOWAS, the 1991 Protocol on the Court and the Rules of the Court that came into force in 2002.

“Through the Court’s “jurisprudence, the Court of Justice of the Community has been able to establish its practice and procedures on the basis of its Protocol, its Rules of Procedure and the general principles of law”.

Mr Kouassi added: “According to article 13 paragraph 1 of the protocol A/P1/7/91, these procedures include two phases: written and oral”.

According to him, the written procedures consist of written documents comprising the (initiating) application, notification of the application, statement of defense of the defendant, the complainant’s reply, the rejoinder and other supporting documents while the written phase begins with the lodged application (initiating application) and ends with the exchange of filed documents, all processes in line with provisions of the texts of the Court.

The written phase, he noted, is concluded when the judge rapporteur is satisfied with lodged documents and informs the registrar to enlist the case for public hearing as may be necessary.

On the oral phase, he said it consist of the oral hearing of the matter before a constituted panel of judges in Court which entails the calling of the case publicly in court to allow the representatives of each party to plead their case and call in witnesses to testify and be cross-examined if deem necessary, after which the case is adjourned to a later date when the Court will give its decision.

He pointed out that oral proceeding is usually done in court and open to the public. However, a case may be heard in closed session if a party’s request for it is granted by the Court or if the Court makes an order for it in accordance with the provisions of article 14 of the 1991 protocol on the Court.

He also told the participants that court proceedings are usually held at the premises of the Court in Abuja, Nigeria though it may schedule court sessions in a member state of ECOWAS as required by Article 26 of the 1991 protocol.

Furthermore, he said that other judicial and administrative actions carried out in the course of administration of justice in the ECOWAS Court are consistent with the provisions of the various legal texts comprising the procedure to be adhered to if a party wishes to bring a matter before the ECOWAS Court.

He added that the decisions of the Court, which are final and ready for immediate execution, are delivered in open court in line with Article 61 of the rules of the court, adding that the Court may review its decision/judgment in accordance with the conditions stated in Article 25 of the 1991 protocol which includes the discovery of some fact of decisive nature, which are earlier unknown to the Court and the applicant.

There were five presentations by the delegation of the Court to the conference, which is led by the Vice President and which were intended to expose the participants at the conference to critical issues relating to the Court.

Other presentations at the five-day conference which opened on 4 October 2021 include An Overview of the Court by the Vice President, The Prospects and Challenges of the Court by the Chief Registrar, How to file Cases before the Court and the Human Rights Mandate of the Court and The Enforcement of its Decisions by other members of the delegation.

Other members of the delegation include Anene-Maidoh, the Chief Registrar, the the Executive Assistants to the President of the Court – Mr Nketiah Apraku, and Vice President, Mr Fernand Kouassi, and a lawyer from the Court’s Registry – Mr Uche Nwoko.