ECOWAS Court of Justice Not in Competition With National Courts
By Augustine Goe
His Honor Justice Micah Wilkins Wright, Vice President of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has clarified that “the ECOWAS Court of Justice is not in competition with National Courts.” Justice Wright made this clarification while addressing judges, lawyers, law students and guests from Sierra Leonean, La Cote d’Ivoire and other African Bars at the LNBA Convention in November 2016.
Justice Wright revealed that the Community Court is organized and supported by the 15 countries of the ECOWAS sub-region. He dismissed the wrong perception that the Community Court was in competition with national courts. He stressed that the ECOWAS Court was not a rival to national courts and assured all that the Court rather complements the national courts in the common quest to dispense justice.
Clarifying further, Justice Wright revealed that the Court does not sit as a court of appeals to review decisions reached by courts in member states. He pointed out that the distinguishing feature about the ECOWAS Community Court is that every individual citizen of West Africa has direct access to sue before it. There is no requirement for exhaustion of domestic remedies which limit the Court’s jurisdiction. This means that individuals do not need to pursue national judicial remedies before making a claim to ECOWAS Court of Justice. Instead, the principal requirements are that the applicant should not be anonymous and that the matter must not be pending before another court.
Expounding further, Justice Wright said that a citizen of any West African country does not need to even sue in his own country. “You can come directly to the ECOWAS Court and sue,” he said. However, he indicated that the Court has some restrictions; that is, the Court determines only human rights issues. This means, the Court entertains only complaints based on human rights violations. Secondly, “the Court does not entertain suits against individual; plaintiff can be individuals but defendants can only be a member state of ECOWAS.”
Lastly, Justice Wright informed the Convention that with the acquiescence and cooperation of the Supreme Court of Liberia and the Liberian National Bar Association, the ECOWAS Court will be in Liberia in May of 2017 to conduct hearings as done in the Courts official seat in Abuja. The rules of the Court and its protocol allow for its sitting in any member state once or twice a year, based on availability of resources. The objective of ECOWAS being the integration of the people of West Africa (i.e. integration in economic activities, legal realms, political and military affairs), Justice Wright expressed optimism that the Court’s judicial activities could contribute to the further integration of West Africa. To effect the success of the Court’s sitting in Liberia, a delegation from the ECOWAS Court of Justice is visiting Liberia this February, as promised at the Convention, to conduct a sensitization mission.