By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja

A total of 71 cases that included 27 judgments due for delivery were stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ECOWAS Court has revealed.

The regional court, in a statement it made available to newsmen in Abuja on Wednesday, said the cases suffered a setback owing to the fact that it had to suspend all its sessions for three months.

President of the Court, Justice Edward Amoako Asante, was said to have made the disclosure at an inaugural virtual press conference the Court held on Tuesday.

Justice Asante noted that the Court could also not consider 12 Applications to accelerate hearing that were brought during the period.

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He said the outbreak affected the momentum in the handling of cases generated by the present college of judges who after delivering a record 35 decisions, comprising of 28 judgments and seven rulings between September 16, 2018, and September 15, 2019, was primed for a hectic 2020 by scheduling 60 cases between March 23 and October 21, 2020.

Justice Asante said the June 22 resumption of sessions of the court was facilitated by two significant developments- the substantial investment in the technology for a virtual hearing which allows the electronic filing of cases and conduct of court sessions and the impending introduction of the Electronic Case Management System by the Court.

He explained that when fully operational, court processes would be filed virtually through the Court’s network by lawyers and the parties, adding that as soon as the process hits the court’s registry, the receipt would be acknowledged by the system which would also certify whether it conforms to the Court’s specifications.

“When that is done, then automatically, a copy will be generated and transmitted to the other party or his lawyer who will already be in our system”, he added.

Furthermore, he said the system would be self-generative at most stages and would give exclusive access to staff and judges whose duties are to see and work on processes at any particular time until the hearing is completed and the decision delivered.

As part of preparations for the resumption of court sessions, the President said the Court updated its Practice Direction on Electronic Case Management of virtual court sessions, developed a Manual Guide on the use of Zoom for virtual court sessions and a Lawyers Guidelines for Virtual Court sessions.

The President challenged the Member States to capacitate the Court with the requisite resources to function in a post-COVID-19 era that would in the case of the Court, require significant reliance on remote technology and the enhancement of its Information Technology and language staff for effectiveness.

With the entire court having only three IT staff as certified in its 2018 organogram and the reduction of Translators in the same organogram from nine to six, the President said the effectiveness of the Court, particularly in the post-COVID-19 era would be impaired with implications for the timely delivery of justice.

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Justice Asante said that judges need the expedited translation of court processes into the three official languages to facilitate their work, as inadequate capacity in the language services could only lead to inordinate delay in the administration of justice despite the reliance on freelance translators with the attendant risks to the secrecy of court documents.

Currently, he said the Court has a backlog of 431 processes awaiting translation, 98 of which are into English, 89 others into French, and the remaining 224 into Portuguese.

According to the statement, among those that attended the virtual conference included Judges of the Court, senior officials of the Community, Ambassadors of ECOWAS Member States accredited to the ECOWAS Commission, and journalists from all over the region.

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