Frontline Human rights campaigner and lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN), has advised the ECOWAS Court of Justice located in Abuja to facilitate online filing processes.
He said that they could use Skype or Zoom to improve access to justice for victims of human rights’ violations. Falana made the request in a letter he wrote to the President of the Court, Justice Edward Amoako Asante, and dated April 27, 2020; a copy of which was obtained by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.
It was titled, “Request to promote and facilitate online filing processes for the Community Court of Justice”. He said that this would enable the court to attend to urgent matters especially at this time of COVID-19 pandemic and satisfy the public’s rights to an open judiciary. “This is also entirely consistent with the practices of other regional human rights’ bodies, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “Similarly, the United Nations special mechanisms are allowing victims and their representatives to file communications online,” he said.
Falana urged the court to take advantage of internet technology to promote and facilitate access to justice for victims of human rights’ violations and abuses across the continent, especially at this time of COVID-19 pandemic. “The filing of processes should be done electronically and sensitive information such as financial information can be removed to address any privacy or security concerns that may arise.
“However, it should be noted that court processes and documents are already public records available in hard copy to anybody who appears as a clerk of court’s office. “Public electronic access to court files should be permitted to the same extent that they are available at the court registry,” he said.
Falana advised the court to create electronic records by scanning documents, or simply upload documents that the court already had in electronic format. “Having both remote electronic access and court registry access to the same information will also utilise more fully the technology available to the Community Court and will allow court officials to better and more easily serve the needs of the bar and the public. “Furthermore, the public interest in obtaining information on litigation and the operation of the Community Court favour electronic disclosure,” he said.
NAN reports that the ECOWAS Court of Justice located in Abuja is an organ of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) comprising 15 member states in West Africa. It was created in 1991 pursuant to the provisions of Articles 6 and 15 of the Revised Treaty of the ECOWAS. It hears cases from Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. He made the request pursuant to the statutory and inherent jurisdiction of the court, to promote justice and provide redress to those facing repression and abuses linked to states’ responses to COVID-19.