Alex Enumah in Abuja
Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, Justice Jerome Traore, President, Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators (ICMC), Emeka Obegolu and a cross section of civil society organisations, have decried the reduction of judges of ECOWAS Court of Justice from seven to five.
Falana and others, who spoke at a two day consultative meeting on strengthening the ECOWAS Court of Justice and Enhancing access to justice in the west African sub-region held in Abuja, said the reduction is already having adverse effect on justice delivery in the sub-region.
The meeting was organised by the Nigerian Coalition for the International Criminal Court, and TrustAfrica as part of efforts at improving service delivery of the ECOWAS Court.
In a paper titled: â€˜Deploying the ECOWAS legal architecture for addressing impunity in West African sub-regionâ€™, Falana said while the court has recorded remarkable success, particularly in upholding human rights of citizens in the sub-region, â€œRegrettable, the decision of the ECOWAS leadership to reduce the number of judges of the court from 7 to 5 will soon lead to congestion of cases and undue delay of justice.â€
Aligning with Falanaâ€™s position, the President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, Justice Troare, admitted that the reduction has actually slowed down the pace of the court in delivering justice in the sub-region.
â€œIf with 7, the court is encountering some challenges, what will it do when it is reduced to 5,â€ he asked.
While the various speakers called on the ECOWAS leadership to revisit the decision, Troare advocated for a situation where each member states is represented at the bench, bringing the number of judges to 15.
The meeting however took a swipe at member states who are in the habit of disregarding and disobeying the judgments and orders of the court, stressing that such action threatens the very existence of the court and the union.
â€œNotwithstanding the commitment of the court to fight impunity by protecting human rights under the rule of law compliance with decisions of the court by some of the member states has not been encouraging,â€ Falana said.
He identified Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Gambia as some of the countries that have refused to comply with some judgments and orders of the court.
The senior lawyer however, disclosed that the absence of an appellate chamber of the court as well as alleged inconsistency in several decisions of the court have been adduced for the reluctance of some litigants to comply with the judgment of the court.
He therefore called on the ECOWAS Commission to commence the process of establishing the appellate chamber which he said was approved by the ECOWAS Council of Ministers at its 56th ordinary session in Abuja.
Another factor the speakers said would strengthen the court as well as enhance access to justice in the West African region is the establishment of a legal aid to assist victims who cannot afford the services of a lawyer or afford the trip to the ECOWAS Court located in Abuja, Nigeria.
â€œThe court should not be for the rich alone,â€ Troare said