Arusha The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) clocked a decade last year. The Registrar, Prof Dr John Eudes Ruhangisa granted an exclusive interview to Nicodemus Ikonko of East African News Agency (EANA) on the achievements and future plans of the regional court among other issues. Excerpts…
Question: The workload of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has of late increased significantly, hence the need of full time service and permanent residence in Arusha of the Judge President and Principal Judge. Have the preparations for the implementation of this facility been completed?
Answer: A report on the review of the nature of the service of judges of the East African Court of Justice was presented to the 24th Meeting of the Council of Ministers held in Bujumbura, Burundi from 21st to 26th November, 2011, which by its directive EAC/CM24/Directive 03 directed that the President of the Court and the Principal Judge be full time residents at the seat of the Court with effect from July 2012.
It also directed (EAC/CM04/Directive 04) the Secretariat to submit a proposal on the remuneration of the President of the Court and the Principal Judge on Full time basis to the Finance and Administration Committee for consideration and thereafter be submitted to the Council and EAC Summit of Heads of State for decision.
The above directives have been implemented and from 1st July, 2012 the President of the Court and Principal Judge will be present full time at the seat of the Court in Arusha.
Question: How will the full time service and permanent residence of the Judge President and Principal Judge speed up the operations of the EACJ?
Answer: The President of the Court and Principal Judge who have been performing their statutory functions as administrative heads of the Organ and directing the work of the divisions by what may be termed as “remote control,” will now be able to perform their duties more effectively. The handling of urgent applications that require quick and prompt hearing, which was a challenge, will now be dealt with quickly and promptly.
Question: One of the ways to ensure that a common East African citizen knows about the existence of EACJ is to establish sub-registries in the partner states. How far has that been done?
Answer: The matter of the establishment of sub-registries was referred to the Council of Ministers, which at its meeting of November 2011 discussed, considered and by its decision EAC/CM21/Decision70 approved the establishment of EACJ sub-registries in all Partner States and mandated each Partner State to designate an Appropriate Officer to supervise their activities.
The Council also mandated the EACJ to recruit and deploy the proposed staff, took note of the financial implications and directed the Secretariat to include the amount in the budget estimates for 2012/2013. The Council Decision has been implemented and the sub-registries, which are now operational, will be officially launched soon. The launching, which is planned to take place in August 2012, will enable the citizens to know about the existence of the sub-registries.
Question: How much does it cost to open a case or dispute at the EACJ?
Answer: The Court charges a fee for institution of a case or dispute, which at the moment could be on the higher side but the court is currently reviewing its fees downwards. Parties also instruct lawyers to represent them in matters brought before the EACJ and the scale of fees charged is depends on agreement between the advocates and clients. However, if there is any dispute or assessment of the fees charged, the matter can be referred to the Registrar for determination in accordance with the scale provided in the Court Rules of Procedure.
The rules of the Court allow a person who cannot afford to pay the necessary filing fees to apply for dispensation of payment of court fees and file his/her case as a pauper.
Question: What could be termed as the major achievements of the court for the past one year?
Answer: The establishment of sub-registries is one of the major achievements as it will increase the visibility of the Court in the region. The Court has been able to sensitize and publicize its activities to the public. This has lead to an increase in the number of cases being filed at the court.
The Court has cooperation with other Regional Judicial Bodies, which includes the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the European Union and SADC Tribunal. Permanent residence of the President and Principal Judge of the Court at Arusha is another achievement as cases will be handled more effectively and efficiently.
Question: There has been indication recently that the jurisdiction of EACJ should be expanded to include cases involving crimes against humanity? What does that mean in reality? Is that technically and practically possible?
Answer: It is true the expansion of the Court’s jurisdiction to include matters involving crimes against humanity is being considered and this is in accordance with the Summit directive.
This means that the court will have jurisdiction to handle matters such as genocide and others like the case of the Kenyan suspects now before the ICC. Although the court has not been consulted or involved in that process, we hope its views will be sought on the issue. Both the Court and East Africa as a region have competent judges who can handle these kinds of matters.
But the organizational capacity and the human and financial resources among other things will be a major challenge and will have to be addressed first. In order for the Court to be able to handle such matters, it will require a prosecution department, investigation department, witnesses’ protection department, prisons where the accused persons can be remanded pending prosecution and detained upon conviction. It is technically and practically possible but a lot needs to be taken into consideration before moving in that direction.
Question: Could we proudly say the EACJ is running its operations accordingly and smoothly?
Answer: The enormous structural, statutory and strategic constraints notwithstanding, the Court has been able to run its operations smoothly. However, a great deal of critical challenges still stands in the Court’s highway to the future.