The court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is to provide legal aid to indigent persons of the region.
A judge in the community court, Justice Dupe Atoki, stated this at the closing of the 11th judicial retreat of the regional court at Goshen City in Karu Local Government, Nasarawa State, North Central Nigeria.
Justice Atoki in an interview with journalists said the retreat was convened in a bid to work out modalities for the amendment of the court’s protocols, to ensure that ECOWAS citizens get the desired justice when their rights are violated.
“One of the most important areas that we deliberated on was providing legal aid for indigent applicants.” she said.
“Because we do know that violations of human rights usually is suffered by the low income earners, who may not have the necessary financial strengths to support a complaint at the court.”
“For us to ensure that the justice gets to the grassroots, we deliberated at length on the possibility of providing legal aid for applicants who are not in a position to do so.”
“We have set up a committee to work on the modalities and the committee will report in December this year, so that we can then take up the necessary issues of formalizing it.”
“I think it’s that one area that we are very pleased with that we have been able to bring to a conclusion.” she added.
The regional court’s retreat is also aimed at amending the 1991 Founding Protocol, and its practice direction.
This only allows member states to initiate suits in the regional court, but to work out a framework to align the Protocol with the 2005 expansion of the courts mandate which allow individual’s access the Court in the violation of their rights.
Justice Atoki said other areas of focus at the retreat is to work on this discrepancy in the protocol that set up the court which was set up to receive complain only from member states.
“The court was set up initially to receive complains from member states. Individuals were not contemplated, so the rules and the protocols that were drafted thereof was with regards to applicants been member states only,” she said.
“Now we are faced with the situation where since 2005 there is a protocol that has opened the court for individuals to bring complains against there member states.”
“There are a lot of discrepancies and a lot of gaps which has implication on the smooth interpretation of the protocol.” she added.
“We have highlighted a number of them which we will reconvene again to further streamline and bring forward to ensure that the protocol is amended, to reflect the new entrants that has been created for a seamless functioning of the court.”
The 11th Judicial Retreat of the Community Court of Justice focused on improving the case management system of the regional Court, and other critical issues germane to the effective functioning of the court.