The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission is in the process of developing a regional framework on Access to Justice and rule of law, which will guide ECOWAS member states in developing effective policies.

The document, when finalised, is expected to be morally binding on all member states and serve as a framework that would allow ordinary citizens access justice.

Mr. Emmanuel E. Okorodudu, Head of Division of Democracy and Good Governance, under the Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Regional Security of the ECOWAS Commission, revealed this at the opening of a two ECOWAS Consultative Meeting on Access to Justice and Respect for the Rule of Law, in Accra on Tuesday.

According to him, participants at the consultative meeting, who were officials from the Ministries of Justice of member states, would discuss different thematic areas of the draft framework including access to justice from the framework of transitional justice, with a focus on how ordinary community citizens can access their rights, and transitional justice within conventional justice systems.

“…conventional and formal justice system is very expensive and limited to urban centres. How do we take this justice to those in the rural settings?, and how do we incorporate traditional justice mechanisms into the functional and formal justice system so that everybody will have a holistic access to justice?” he said.

He told the GNA, that the framework will also allow institutions like the West African Bar Association and other national bar associations, to expand it outside the scope of formal justice systems to traditional justice systems.

“We need to decentralize the justice system and that’s what we want this framework to do,” he stated.

The draft document is now in its draft stage and after inputs from the meeting it will be taken back to the people though civil society actors, for their input, then to the Heads of national human rights institutions and then back to the Ministry of justice officials to be perfected. It will then go the ECOWAS Ministers of Justice and finally to the ECOWAS Heads of State, to become a legal text.

Dr. Remi Ajobewa, in a statement read on his behalf by Mr. Okorodudu, said the policy framework adopts an approach which supports citizens-driven access to justice and legal empowerment, combined with legal standards to contribute to the realization of the citizens’ rights, particularly in the marginalized group.

“It is my expectation that your inputs and contributions to this legal framework will lay the groundwork for perfecting this legal ECOWAS framework on access to justice. The outcome of this effort is to have a shared vision on the importance of investing in access to justice as a means of achieving a more just, peaceful and inclusive society,” he stated.

Mr. Cecil Adadevor, Principal State Attorney, who represented the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Ghana, said access to justice was a major concern for many in the sub region with affordability of litigation being one of the main challenges, especially for the poor.

He said the Legal Aid Scheme and the Justice for All programme in Ghana, as well as alternatives like the Alternative Dispute Resolution and mediation, were geared towards addressing this challenge.

He noted that it remained important, particularly for Africa, to know the rule of law, as a guard to the rule of men and urged member states to continue down the path of constitutional democracy.

“…I urge you all, in your deliberations, to do all to ensure that the rule of law in our constitutional democracy is always upheld…I daresay that when we have rule of law, then we can have good access to justice for all in the sub-region,” he said.

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