ECOWAS member states urged to integrate legal systems

A former lecturer at the Ghana School of Law, Mr Ace Anan Ankomah, has advocated the integration of the legal systems of member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)  to ensure the uniform applicability, interpretation and enforcement of community laws.

That, according to him, was a precondition for the successful economic and political integration of the ECOWAS sub-region.

By integrating the legal systems, Mr Ankomah said the region would be standardising the legal environment which was  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 Law.

He was delivering a paper on: Integration of the Economic Community of West African States through the Law. at the 2019 international conference of the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Accra held  on the theme, “Economic Integration of West Africa: challenges and prospects’.

The four-day conference brought together judges and staff of the court, Chief Justices of member states, heads of ECOWAS National Units, ECOWAS Ambassadors and members of states to discuss among others harmonising of the ECOWAS legal system.

Mr Ankomah, a managing partner of Bentsi-Enchill, Letsa and Ankomah, a private legal firm, said,  there was the need to take a variety of steps including a clear agreement on the hierarchy of laws within ECOWAS which would have the effect of limiting state sovereignty so that Community law was recognised as superior to municipal laws.

This, he noted, would require the establishment of a Community legal order that would recognise 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 while member states would be able to invoke and rely on Community Law before their national courts”, he said.

 The other elements of the strategy, according to him, would require the provision of legal education on Community law within 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 Member States that will create awareness, encourage acceptance and facilitate better interaction of ECOWAS citizens.

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

Mr Ankomah 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 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.


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