The three-month suspension of court sessions by the ECOWAS Court of Justice occasioned by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic affected 71 cases, including 27 judgments scheduled by the Court for the period, the President of the Court, Justice Edward Amoako Asante said on Tuesday, 23rd June 2020.
“The Court could also not consider the 12 Applications filed during the period for accelerated hearing,” the President said during the inaugural virtual press conference of the Court.
He said that the outbreak affected the momentum in the handling of cases generated by the present college of judges who after delivering a record 35 decisions, comprising of 28 judgments and seven rulings between 16th September 2018 and 15th September 2019, was primed for a hectic 2020 by scheduling 60 cases between 23rd March and 21st October 2020.
Of this number, the Court had programmed to deliver 27 judgments and one Ruling while the others were to be heard, the President said at the conference which had in attendance judges of the Court, senior officials of the Community, Ambassadors of ECOWAS Member States accredited to the ECOWAS Commission and journalists from all over the region.
Justice Asante said that the 22nd June 2020 resumption of court sessions was facilitated by two significant developments- the substantial investment in the technology for virtual hearing which allows the electronic filing of cases and conduct of court sessions and the impending introduction of the Electronic Case Management System by the Court.
When fully operational, the President explained, court processes will be filed virtually through the Court’s network by lawyers and the parties and as soon as the process hits the court’s registry, receipt will be acknowledged by the system which will also certify whether it conforms to the Court’s specifications.
“When that is done, then automatically, a copy will be generated and transmitted to the other party or his lawyer who will already be in our system, “he added.
Furthermore, he said the system is self-generative at most stages and it gives exclusive access to staff and judges whose duties are to see and work on processes at any particular time until hearing is completed and decision delivered.
As part of preparations for the resumption of court sessions, the President said the Court updated its Practice Direction on Electronic Case Management of virtual court sessions, developed a Manual Guide on the use of Zoom for virtual court sessions and a Lawyers Guidelines for Virtual Court sessions.
The President challenged Member States to capacitate the Court with the requisite resources to function in a post COVID-19 era that will in the case of the Court, require significant reliance on remote technology and the enhancement of its Information Technology and language staff for effectiveness.
With the entire court having only three IT staff as certified in its 2018 organogram and the reduction of Translators in the same organogram from nine to six, the President said the effectiveness of the Court, particularly in the post COVID-19 era will be impaired with implications for the timely delivery of justice.
Justice Asante said that judges need the expedited translation of court processes into the three official languages to facilitate their work, as inadequate capacity in the language services can only lead to inordinate delay in the administration of justice despite the reliance on freelance translators with the attendant risks to the secrecy of court documents.
Currently, he said, the Court has a backlog of 431 court processes awaiting translation 98 of which are into English, 89 others into French and the remaining 224 into Portuguese.