The President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, Honorable Justice Edward Amoako Asante has advocated for the harmonization of the judicial systems of Member States through the alignment of the legal texts of the Community with those of the States in order to attain a Community legal regime that supports the region’s integration objectives.

In a presentation on Wednesday, 23rd February 2022  at a judicial forum for judges, magistrates and officials of  the Kwara state judiciary as part of the Court’s weeklong sensitization campaign in Ilorin, the state capital, the President characterized the relationship between the ECOWAS and national courts as ‘a crucial element in the integration process of ECOWAS.

“It is therefore of utmost importance that Member States of ECOWAS domesticate the ECOWAS Revised Treaty and the Protocols and Supplementary Acts of the Community. It is also imperative, to deepen the relationship between the judges of the ECOWAS Court of Justice and the national courts of ECOWAS Member States,” the President said in the presentation which was delivered by a judge of the Court, Justice Dupe Atoki.

Honorable Justice Asante reiterated international character of the ECOWAS Court and its long held position that it is neither in competition with national courts nor an appellate court over its decisions but that both play complementary roles in the dispensation of justice and the integration of the region.

“In a long chain of decisions, the ECOWAS Court of Justice has consistently held that it is not an appellate Court over national Courts of Member States as the Court has maintained that it has no jurisdiction to make any declaration on the Judgments of national courts, except where the national Courts or parties refer issues of interpretation of Community texts,’ he added.

In this regard, the said that the ECOWAS Court has declared that the relationship existing between the Court and national courts of Member States is not of a vertical nature but demands an integrated community legal order and that the national courts have the obligation to implement the decisions of the Court, an obligation that does not imply hierarchy as the regional  is not an appellate Court or a Court of cassation over the national courts but has been fostering judicial comity with national courts of Member States.

The President identified the possible areas of conflict between the regional and national courts arising mainly from mutual suspicion and the different legal systems in the Community to include their co-location within the same geographical space; their concurrent  human rights jurisdiction;  the lack of requirement for the exhaustion of local before the ECOWAS court which could result in forum shopping;  and the failure by Member States to domesticate the Revised Treaty of 1993 and the Protocol on the Court in accordance with their treaty obligations.

The list also includes the failure by Member States to comply with or enforce the Judgments of the Court; the gaps in the ECOWAS legal texts and the municipal laws of Member States leading to the failure to clearly define the relationship between both courts.

The presentation also dwelt on the evolution of the court and its transition from an inter-state court with treaty supervision and oversight functions at its inception to a court with four mandates including human rights which has become its preeminent mandate.

Earlier, the Chief Judge of the State, Justice S.D. Kawu praised the ‘thoughtfulness’ of the regional court in organizing the campaign which will not only create greater awareness of the Court among the citizens but open the door for more legal practitioners from the state to ‘ply their trade before the court’ and widen their scope of the law.

He reminded those with judicial powers of the ‘enormous and far reaching powers they exercise over our fellow men and women,’ which requires that they ‘exhibit good character, reputation, diligence, hard work, honesty, integrity, sound knowledge of the law and consistent adherence to professional ethics.

Citing a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, His Lordship Honorable M.L. Uwais at an induction course in 1991, the Chief Judge said the ‘image of the judiciary is determined by what we all as judicial officers do in the performance of our duties and as individuals in the dispensation of justice (and) the ordinary citizens builds up his image of the judiciary by what we all do or are going to do in our difference Court.” 

“ We must never in the discharge of our duties entertain for a moment, the fear of any individual or institution or be swayed by the sentiments of tribe, religion or family relationship, the Chief Judge said, urging them not be cowed into indulging in any unethical conduct due to any threat or intimidation.

He added: “ we must at all times in the course of discharging our duties, fear only God, our creator, who is the judge of all judges, the possessor of power over all beings and to whom we shall ultimately give account of our stewardship and sojourn here on earth, on the day of judgment.”

The campaign, which was declared open on Tuesday by the State Governor has dedicated forums for the judiciary, women, lawyers and students, each of which is tailored to meet the needs of each group.

The delegation of the Court to the campaign is led by the Vice President, Justice Gberi be Ouattara and includes Justices Dupe Atoki, Keikura Bangura and Januaria Moreira Costa as well as staff of the Court.