Legal Nigeria

Why Non-Implementation Of Court Decisions Worry African Lawyers, Courts

A group photograph during the Pan African Lawyers Union symposium in Abuja recently

The difficulty in the enforcement of decisions of courts has remained a major challenge in the development of the judiciary, democracy and rule of law on the African continent.

Regional courts, institutions, organisations and lawyers on the continent have criticized the situation and continued to seek ways and means of engaging the relevant authorities and stakeholders to respect the decisions of courts.

Lack of enforcement or implementation of judgments and decisions of courts undermines the democratic principle of separation of powers, judicial independence, public confidence, and respect for human rights.

To this end, lawyers and administrators of the major court jurisdictions in Africa assembled in Abuja on December 6 and 7 to deliberate on the issue with lawyers and court administrators from different countries, with human rights institutions in attendance. 

The gathering was at a continental symposium organised by the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), which was held in Abuja recently. 

West African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and the regional court, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice; East African countries of Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Burundi with the regional court, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights, and other regional legal institutions were represented at the symposium. 

Suggestions for African judicial authorities to adopt suspension, economic or diplomatic sanctions against errant states was mooted, but these are faced with many challenges especially for the Africa Court on Human and Peoples Rights because, of the 54 African states, only 31 countries have ratified the protocol of the court, while only eight had deposited the declaration under Article 34(6) of the Protocol of the court to allow individuals and non-governmental entities to take applications to the court. Thus, it would be difficult for the continental or regional bodies to adopt such measures. 

At the symposium, while some participants advocated further engagement with member states and other arms of government, others agreed that activism would contribute to the enforcement of judgments.

Speaking during the opening ceremony, the president of the West African Bar Association (WABA), Moussa Coulibaly, said lawyers, the various human rights institutions and civil society groups have an important role to play in ensuring the implementation of courts’ judgments.

“We have to also engage the politics of the implementation,” he said. 

He also stressed the need for greater funding for the courts and the need to hire more judges for ease and speed of work.

In his remarks, the Vice President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, Justice Gberi-be Ouattara, bemoaned the downward review of the tenure of justices from five years renewable to four years non-renewable, as an impediment to the protection of human rights and dispensation of justice in the region.

He advised that objective evaluation as to the roots could be the solutions to the challenges faced by courts in Africa.

Also speaking, the Programme Officer of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI), Ms. Deborah Nyokabi Mburu, listed the strategies adopted by the institution to ensure compliance with African regional courts judgements. 

She explained that NHRIs are the intermediary between the people, the state and the courts with affiliate status within the African commission. 

In his presentation, the Executive Assistant of the President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, Justice Edward Amoako Asante, said Article 23(3) of the ECOWAS Court Protocol enjoins member-states to take all necessary measures to ensure the execution of judgments. 

He said articles 19 and 24 of the ECOWAS Court Protocol provide for the mode of implementation by way of writ submitted by the registrar to member state via its implementation authority. 

“Implementation of its judgment still a very big challenge even though there are a few success stories. Only six states have set up implementation authority,” he said.

In her experience, Country Director of Amnesty International, Ms. Osai Ojigho, said the organisation has supported several litigations at the ECOWAS Court and appeared also as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in several cases to obtain judgments that are shaping human rights in countries such as the case they supported in Sierra Leone ECOWAS Court against the policy of withdrawing pregnant girls from school, which the government complied with.

She also identified the Ethiopian women lawyers’ case challenging the cultural practice that allows a rapist to marry his victim which violated the right of the girl child. A 13-year-old girl was raped and the rapist was mandated to marry her, which forced the government to amend the law.

She further identified the Dorothy Njemanze vs Federal Government of Nigeria case which bothered on violence against women and gender discrimination for victims who were arrested for allegedly being sex workers with N18 million awarded to the victims, although not implemented by the Nigerian government.

At the end of the two-day session, recommendations for more strategic engagement between judicial institutions and the media, and civil society, and for the latter to build bridges with the government to safeguard the sanctity of the courts.

Further suggestions were made for the strengthening of monitoring, training, and revision of rules that could help in ensuring that judgments are obeyed in Africa and the continent achieved better adherence to the rule of law and democratic tenets.