ECOWAS Court Updates Rules of Procedure In Response To Pandemic

The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice has updated its Practice Direction to enable the virtual conduct of Court sessions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ECOWAS court said its electronic filing process was also updated in accordance with the Supplementary practice direction.

A copy of the Practice Direction document, signed by the court’s President, Justice Edward Asante, which was made available to the media in Lagos, was circulated to the Registry, Agents, and lawyers representing parties before the Court.

Justice Asante said that the practice direction was part of its efforts to adapt to the challenges posed by the raging COVID-19 pandemic which forced the court to suspend its session.

He said the updated practice direction on Electronic Case Management and Virtual Court Session came into force on May 13.

According to him, this will enable the court resume its sessions which were suspended through a statement on March 20, because of coronavirus pandemic.

“Resumption will enable us clear the backlog of cases and hear the increasing number of cases brought before the court in order to enable it discharge its obligation to litigants for the timely delivery of justice,” the president explained.

He said the updated nine-page direction would enable the court deepen the integration of information technology into its processes for greater efficiency.

”It will also improve access for litigants which will be useful post COVID-19 in reducing the cost of litigation and beneficial mostly for indigent litigants.

”In updating the direction, the court relied on the provisions of Article 100 of its Rules of Procedure with the objectives of ensuring the safety of Judges, Staff and court users.

”The timely dispensation of justice; the deployment of suitable technology for its case management system and court sessions, and the efficient use of available (judicial and administrative) resources, ” he said.

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Asante noted that it has become imperative for the ECOWAS court to explore the use of Electronic Case Management System for electronic filing (e-filing) and Virtual Court Sessions.

He said that where necessary, physical court sessions under strict conditions, in order to prevent the spread of the virus, whilst continuing to discharge its judicial mandate unabated.

”Moreover, the direction will enable the court continue the hearing of cases on its Cause List, giving preference to interim/intervening (interlocutory) applications and post judgment applications and other such matters requiring urgent decisions within specified period of time.

”The articles of the practice direction define the procedures for the electronic filing of legal documents and the electronic service of legal documents.

“It also include modalities for virtual court sessions, recording of proceedings, judgment and ruling as well as physical court sessions in exceptional cases,” the president said.  

He added that the direction also provided the guidelines for caseload management to ensure continued access to timely justice without compromising the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

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