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From its conception as a Tribunal to its current form as a Community Court, the ECOWAS Court ofJustice (ECCJ) stands as one of the most transformed international courts in terms of functions,structure, and processes
Established under Article 6 and 15 of the Revised Treaty of Economic Community of West African States, (“ECOWAS”); the ECCJ – the sole judicial organ of the community; initially had a very limited mandate to settle disputes arising out of the treaty as they related to states and institutions of the commission. However, the ECCJ has since evolved from an inter-governmental dispute settlement mechanism into a community court with an expanded mandate and jurisdiction including; an Advisory jurisdiction, contentious jurisdiction, and competence in matters of adjudication.
The ECCJ also has broad access and standing rules allowing individuals and NGOs to by-pass national courts and file directly to the regional court. This followed the Court’s ruling in Olajide Afolabi v. Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The expanded mandate of the court – allowing for individual access; the open-ended legal norms application by the court;3and the absence of the requirement for exhaustion of local remedies as a prerequisite for admissibility of a complaint4 – collectively give the ECOWAS Court the broadest authority of all the human rights tribunals in the world. The authority, coupled with the court’s mandate to hold at least two (2) mobile sessions in a year;5 and the recent court directive requiring member states to indicate the competent national authority with the mandate to enforce the decisions of the court against the specific member state – strategically place the court to play a critical role in advancing accountability for victims of gross human rights violations, and in the fight against impunity.
The Proposed Restructuring of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice
In a bid to restructure the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States, with a view of ensuring efficiency; several recommendations have been made, including inter alia the need for the reduction of the number of statutory appointed positions across all institutions of the Commission.
One of the institutions affected by this proposed reduction is the ECCJ. It is proposed that the total number of judges at the Court be reduced from the current seven (7), to five (5) judges.