Prominent lawyer, Ace Anan Ankomah, has proposed the integration of the legal systems of ECOWAS Member  States.

The former lecturer at Ghana School of Law said integrating ECOWAS legal systems will ensure uniform applicability, interpretation and enforcement of community law and as a precondition for the successful economic and political integration of the region. 

 By integrating the legal system, Mr Ankomah said the region would be standardising the legal environment, which is imperative in resolving the inevitable tension implicit in the co-existence of Community and national laws in regulating the lives of ECOWAS citizens as well as between the different national laws, the municipal and community laws.

 Consequently, Mr. Ankomah, who is a Managing Partner in Ghana’s largest private law firm, Bentsi-Enchill, Letsa and Ankomah, said there was the need to take a variety of steps including a clear agreement on the hierarchy of laws within ECOWAS which will have the effect of limiting state sovereignty so that Community law is recognized as superior to Municipal law.

ECOWAS-HQ

 This,  he explained in a paper at the 2019  international conference of the  ECOWAS Court of Justice in Accra, would require the establishment of a Community legal order that recognizes the primacy of the Community Court at the apex of the hierarchy as part of a three-pronged strategy that will bolster integration through the law.

 ‘National  courts  would  rely  on  and  be  bound  by  the  interpretation  given  by  the ECOWAS  Court  of  Justice  on  the  provisions  of  Community  law  to  ensure  consistent interpretation of that law while Member States would be able to invoke and rely on Community  Law  before  their  national  courts,’  he  said  in  his  paper  on  Integration  of the Economic Community of West African States through the Law.

 The other elements of the strategy, he added, will require the provision of  legal education on Community law within the Member States and avenues to enforce the judgments of the  ECOWAS Court in national courts as well as facilitate cross border judgments from the national courts of Member States.

 In this regard, he called for the incorporation of Community law into the legal and diplomatic training in the Member States that will create awareness,   encourage acceptance and facilitate better interaction of ECOWAS citizens.

Such a measure, he added, will create a niche specialisation among lawyers within the region on community law, issues and disputes; create an enabling environment for cross border legal practice that will enhance competition and the quality of legal practice.

 He  also  spoke  on  the  exasperating  issue  of  the  enforcement  of  the  decisions  of  the Court  and  recommended  that  in  the  absence  of  a  uniform practice  among the Member States on the status of Community law and how it applies in each country, the Court might  need  to  explore  one  of  two  options  for  developing  a  workable  enforcement regime for its decisions.

Blind justice law

These   include   the   direct   applicability   principle,   an   European   Law   that   enables individuals to immediately invoke a European provision before a national or European Court based on the premise that the founding Treaty of the Union create legal rights that could be enforced before the courts of Community Member States as long as it is clear and precisely stated, not conditional and confers a specific right.

 Secondly, he contended that the Court could also explore the preferred option of developing a multi-lateral reciprocal enforcement Treaty or Convention that will be ratified by all the Member States most of which ‘enforce foreign judgments on the basis of reciprocity.

“A  multilateral  treaty-based  enforcement  regime  would  aid  integration  within  the Community,”he said, adding that the Organisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) structure  applicable  in  Francophone  Member  States  is  not  only  ‘instructive,’  but provides  ‘viable  blueprint  for  enforcing  Community  and  judgments  of  the  Court  of Justice and other Court judgments in the Member States.’