President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has urged member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to respect and comply with judgments of the regional apex court as part of measures to accelerate the bloc’s integration process.
He said it was incumbent on member states to mainstream the rule of law, democracy and good governance in the development of the integration project by adhering to the enabling legal environment for the integration of the community.
The President was speaking at an international conference of the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Accra yesterday.
The four-day conference is on the theme: "Economic integration of West Africa: Challenges and prospects".
It attracted 142 participants, including judges and staff of the ECOWAS Court, Chief Justices of ECOWAS member states, members of academia, heads of ECOWAS institutions and development partners.
Court of Justice
The Court of Justice was pursuant to the provisions of articles 6 and 15 of the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS and the adoption of the Protocol on the Community Court of Justice in 1991.
Additionally, the ECOWAS Revised Treaty of 1993 established the Court of Justice as an institution of ECOWAS.
The protocol, which has seen two amendments in 2005 and 2006, have the Supplementary Protocol expanding the court's jurisdiction to include human rights claims by individuals.
The court has jurisdiction over four general types of disputes — those relating to the interpretation, application or legality of ECOWAS regulations, those that arise between ECOWAS and its employees, those relating to liability for or against ECOWAS and also disputes that involve violations of human rights committed by member states.
Application of treaty
President Akufo-Addo said since the ECOWAS Court had exclusive responsibility for the interpretation and application of the ECOWAS revised treaty, courts of member states must be encouraged to refer questions of interpretation of the revised treaty and other community texts in cases before them to the court of justice to ensure uniformity in the interpretation of the treaty and the text.
“It is time for those who believe in regional integration to give enthusiastic support to the community’s decisions and inspire confidence and integrity in the structural organs of the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
Our people deserve no less and the dream of prosperity will be within our grasp,” he added.
The President explained that the protocol of the court, as amended, gave member states the sole responsibility for the enforcement of the judgment of the court, in accordance with their rules of procedure, and that it was incumbent on each member state to appoint a competent national authority for the enforcement of the judgments of the court.
He described as unfortunate the situation where only five member states had done so but announced that in the case of Ghana, he had designated the Office of the Attorney-General as the competent national authority for the enforcement of judgments of the ECOWAS Court of Justice by Ghana.
On integration, President Akufo-Addo said for the welfare of the 350 million people of ECOWAS, it was important that its leaders demonstrated strong political will to make the economic and political integration of the bloc real, especially at the dawn of the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
“What makes ECOWAS better will make each of our individual countries better and more prosperous,” he said.
The Chief Justice of Ghana, Ms Sophia Akuffo, said a regional bloc such as ECOWAS, which facilitated the free movement of people and goods, as well as their integration, required an effective judicial structure that would ensure that the inevitable transactional and human conflicts that would arise could be resolved peacefully.
She said that could be achieved without resorting to impunity or confusion because every structure set up by human beings must be grounded in a good and solid judicial remedy system that would ensure that laws that bound the states and their people worked together to help foster integration and also lead to peaceful coexistence.
The President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, Justice Edward Amoako Asante, gave an assurance that the court would continue to play its role as the principal legal organ of the community.
He, however, described the reduction of the number of justices at the court from seven to five, under a new protocol, at a time when the work load at the court had increased, as worrisome, adding that the court was also constrained in other sectors.