The ECOWAS Court of Justice says it is not going back on holding virtual sessions, judgments and court processes, especially in view of its affordability to the common citizens of the community.
President of the Court Justice Edward Asante said that the virtual processes introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic had proved to be the solution to the high cost of pursuing court cases by community citizens.
Asante said this in an interview with newsmen in Abuja on the sidelines of a valedictory ceremony held to honour of its five retiring staff members.
He said that the court had invested 138,000 dollars in purchasing all the gadgets and software needed to make the virtual sessions seamless and as such there was no going back.
According to him, with the new virtual sessions, parties and their lawyers do not need to come to Abuja as hitherto required, but can file all processes and pursue their cases to the end from their home countries.
“The parties are in the countries with their lawyers, we have set up a system where they see us and we see them while the hearing goes on.
“This is very good for us and for them as well.
“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.
“Now that this one has come, at the cost of $138,000 we purchased all the gadgets, processes, systems and software; that is a huge expenditure by the Court and, therefore, it has come to stay.
“Whether there is COVID-19 or no COVID-19 we are going to do virtual hearings.
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“Even the court room now as it is, the core staff members, the interpreters, the translators are all in the booths and those who are doing verbatim translation are in their offices doing their work.
“So, in the court room it is only the three judges who sit and the two or three court clerks who sit in front of them.
Speaking earlier during the valedictory session, the Court’s President expressed delight to bid farewell to the retiring staffers, particularly two of who were founding members of the Court.
He said that their departure marked the end of an era in the annals of the court, while commending them for sacrificing their most vibrant and productive years to the service of the community.
“Occasions like this, therefore, aptly provide the opportunity to publicly acknowledge, respect and appreciate their contributions to the court particularly through its formative years.
“This ceremony is also historic in another respect.
“For the first time in the history of the court, retiring staff members are being offered a golden handshake by way of a cash gift award outside their normal entitlements.
“In doing this, the court is aligning itself with the culture in the commission in what is becoming a community wide tradition.
“I will recommend that the beneficiaries find a way to invest this fund as they are heading for a post-work era when they will have to rely on their pensions and other investments.”
The retiring personnel include: Chief Registrar Mr Tony Anene, Principal Legal Officer Mrs Franca Ofor, an Accountant Mr Apenteng Takyako, a Translator Mrs Mariama Gouro and a secretary Mrs Elisaberth Ashalley.
Retirement at the court is upon the attainment of 62 years of age or 35 years in service whichever comes first.