ECOWAS Court updates its rules of procedure to allow for virtual court sessions and the electronic filing of cases

The ECOWAS Court of Justice has updated its Practice Direction to enable the virtual conduct of Court sessions and the electronic filing of court processes, according to the Supplementary practice direction issued by the Court.

The Practice Direction, which was signed by the Court’s President, Honorable Justice Edward Amoako Asante and circulated to the Registry, Agents and lawyers representing parties before the Court, is part of its efforts to adapt to the challenges posed by the raging COVID-19 pandemic which forced the court to suspend its session.

Justice Asante said the updated “Practice Direction on Electronic Case Management and Virtual Court Session,” which came into force on 13th May 2020, will enable the Court resume its sessions which were suspended through a statement on 20th March 2020 because of the 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.

Moreover, he said the updated 9-page Direction will enable the Court deepen the integration of Information Technology into its processes for greater efficiency and improved access for litigants which would 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.

“It has become imperative for the Court to explore the use of Electronic Case Management System for electronic filing (e-filing) and Virtual Court Sessions, and 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,” the document said.

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 a 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 includes modalities for virtual court sessions, recording of proceedings, judgment and ruling as well as physical court sessions in exceptional cases.

The Direction also provides the guidelines for caseload management to ensure continued access to timely justice without compromising the risk of transmission of COVID-19.