ECOWAS Virtual Court: Procedure for case filing, hearing, judgment

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By Ifeanyi Nwoko

The Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS, has deployed complete virtual procedure of handling cases without physical presence of parties, following the advent of the COVID-19 Pandemic and attendant safety protocol.

The new process according to the President of the Court, Justice Edward Asante, while in adherence to the COVID-19 protocol also provides an avenue to reduce cost of seeking redress and making the court more assessable.

Asante said in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in 2020, that the court was meant for all citizens, especially the indigent ones who also suffer rights’ violations and cannot afford the hitherto cost of seeking redress.

“So, parties do not need to travel to Abuja by air, they do not have to house their lawyers in hotels, so it is virtually free because they also bring their documents by email.

“The ECOWAS Court is meant for indigent parties, it is not meant for the rich; therefore for parties to fly themselves and their lawyers to Abuja to have hearings was a problem for us and we sympathised with them,” he said.

The court in a document titled “Practice Direction on Electronic Case Management and Virtual Sessions”, listed the procedure for seeking redress using the virtual court.

According to the document made available to NAN, the virtual court also seeks to ensure that time bound applications for provisional and interim measures and accelerated procedures are handled within the right time frame.

The new procedure allows for electronic filing of legal documents where lawyers are expected to lodge processes electronically.

“Parties and counsels shall ensure that every document lodged electronically has the email address and mobile telephone number (WhatsApp Compliant) of the counsel.

“Member States appearing before the court are expected to assign a focal point for the purpose of receiving legal processes electronically and communicate their contact numbers to the registry of the court,” it said.

The document insisted that all documents must be signed, stamped and sent in PDF format, while a word format is also to accompany to allow for easy translation to other languages.

According to the document, a new Electronic Case Management Solution (ECMS) will be launched soon and all lawyers required to be registered on the platform.

In the newly adopted case management, the registry of the court shall serve all court processes electronically – either by email or any other electronic means directed by the court.

It said that a copy of the document showing the electronic means through which it was sent and the time stamp shall serve as prove of service and be deemed good and sufficient.

“Where an electronic mode of service is employed, time shall primafacie begin to run from the date the process was sent,” the document said.

It added that where a virtual session had been scheduled, the registry would communicate all parties involved through electronic means, informing them of the date, time and means of joining the session.

”To make the session more seamless and with less interference, the court’s document stated that only lawyers, agents or counsels are allowed to join the session,” it stated.

It stated that all Rules and Procedure as well as Practice Directions shall also be applicable even in the virtual court, adding that all parties must dress appropriately.

It advised counsels and all making presentations to the court to be mindful of the need for interpretation and as such speak slowly so that the interpreters that relay their messages accordingly.

On judgment, it said that only the rulings shall be read during the session while the Certified True Copy of the full judgment and ruling containing the full analysis will be forwarded to parties electronically.

It, however, said that the court may choose to hold a physical session when it is deemed necessary, adding that the virtual court is subject to review at the discretion of the court. (NAN)