The President of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, Honorable Justice Jerome Traore on Monday, 9th October 2017 opened the Court’s 2017/2018 legal year with an appeal on the Community’s Council of Ministers to endorse the rules of arbitration that will enable the Court exercise its interim arbitral mandate.

Under Article 16 of the 1993 ECOWAS Revised Treaty, regional leaders authorised the establishment of an ECOWAS Arbitration Tribunal as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism while Article 9(5) of the Protocol on the Court vested it with interim arbitral mandate pending the establishment of the tribunal.
The President characterised the ECOWAS Court as a ‘classic international court’ by virtue of its competences to entertain an array of cases mostly related to inter-state disputes, contentious matters, the rule of law and application of the Community’s texts, administrative issues and the violation of human rights.

Justice Traoré said that the 2005 Supplementary Protocol of the Court, which granted to individuals direct access to the Court, has further equipped the court to contribute towards the regional effort to the promotion of freedom, consolidation of democracy, the promotion of justice and prosperity for the citizenry.

He paid tribute to Member States for the achievement which ‘instantly projected the region into the pedestal of the class of regional integration bodies governed by the principles of democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law.’

With individuals granted direct access, he said the court has witnessed a remarkable increase in the number of cases with about one hundred cases pending, majority of them for alleged human rights violations and evidence of the growing citizen confidence as a source of the timely delivery of justice as ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’

Consequently, he said the Court has within ten years of its existence, risen to the status of the guardian of individual and collective freedoms and constituted a truly robust wall of defence against injustice and arbitrariness in the region.

He therefore frowned at the reform-driven effort to reduce the number of judges from seven to five considering the increasing number of cases filed before the Court as well as the decision to restrict the tenure of the judges to a four-year non-renewable as this could frustrate efforts at building and sustaining a ‘stable and coherent jurisprudence.’

Earlier in a welcome address, the Chief Registrar of the Court, Mr Tony Anene-Maidoh said the theme for the ceremony was ‘carefully chosen in recognition of the importance of Arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for any Regional Economic Community framework’ as this would help stimulate foreign direct investment by assuring investors of the existence of a mechanism for dispute resolution.’

‘ As a Community, we cannot fully attract foreign direct investment into our region without assuring investors of the availability of a Regional Arbitration forum for dispute resolution,’ he said in his welcome speech, noting that the Community was ‘fortunate that the 1993 ECOWAS revised Treaty has provisions for the establishment of an Arbitration Tribunal for the Community under Article 16.

Mr Anene-Maidoh said since the inception of the Court, 318 cases have been lodged while 249 decisions were delivered consisting of 145 judgements, 104 rulings, seven revision of judgements while four advisory opinions were rendered.

During the period, he said the court held 779 sessions while 37` of the cases before the Court were lodged between 16th September 2016 and 16th September 2017 .

‘Currently 98 cases are pending before the Court’, the Chief Registrar said, adding that ‘many of the cases are scheduled for judgement after the opening of the legal year.’

With the opening of the 2017/2018 legal year, Mr Anene-Maidoh said the court reiterated the vision of the court of remaining an ‘independent, reliable, efficient and accessible Community judicial institution that plays a strategic role in the establishment and sustenance of an enabling legal environment for the attainment of the objectives of the Community.’

The ceremony was celebrated on the theme “Current Trends in International and Regional Commercial Arbitration,” with the keynote address delivered by Dr Kenfack Douajni Gaston, the President of the Association for the Promotion of Arbitration in Africa.

In delivering the vote of thanks, Hon. Justice Hameye Foune Mahalmadane, who is the Dean of the Court, paid tribute to the guests for honouring the court with their presence and the Guest speaker for contributing to deepening the knowledge of the guests on the issues of international and regional commercial arbitration.

In his address, Dr Gaston Douajni provided an overview of current trends in international and regional commercial arbitration, the sources of international and regional instruments while proffering suggestions for operationalizing the ECOWAS arbitration system.