EACJ finally gets full-time judges
The region will soon have fulltime judges at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ).
The East African Community partner states agreed, last week, to appoint judges on a permanent basis to the Arusha-based court, who will devote their time to administer justice at the regional body, without juggling between the tribunal’s work and other state responsibilities in their own countries.
The development means the court’s judges will now be based in Arusha on a permanent basis.
Currently, each of the EAC states has two representatives on the EACJ, with Rwanda’s High Court President, Johnston Busingye, and Supreme Court judge, Rusera Kayitesi, representing Kigali.
Rusera sits on the EAC Upper Court of Appeal, while Busingye is the Principle Judge for the Lower Court. EACJ judges serve between five and seven years, depending on the raffle carried out at the beginning of each one’s mandate.
The decision was taken after it was noted that cases have been pending in both First Instances and Appellate Divisions because the judges spend more time dispensing justice in their own countries, while they gave little time and attention to the region’s judicial body.
Judges have been operating on ad hoc basis.
In an interview with The New Times, Dr John Eudes Ruhangisa, the registrar of EACJ confirmed that, the President and the Principal Judge of the Court will be full-time residents at the seat of the Court in Arusha, with effect from July 2012.
Justice Harold Reginald Nsekera is the President of the court.
“Having judges permanently resident in Arusha will help improve the court’s performance and end the remote control type of work,” he said.
Reacting to the news, the president of the Kigali Bar Association, Athanase Rutabingwa, said the changes should be effected “immediately to ensure that the regional court delivers more efficiently.”
“The biggest problem is that ever since the court was set up, it has not been able to fully operate because the judges have other responsibilities in their respective countries. What needs to be done now is to have all the EACJ judges resign from their national assignments and focus on the regional court,” said Rutabingwa.
Observers say currently EACJ members serve two masters – the EAC and their national jurisdictions – with some saying this could put their independence in disrepute.
However, Ruhangisa said the court will remain with a host of challenges to contend with, including limited jurisdiction of the court under Article 27(1), lack of full appreciation of the court by the policymakers and other stakeholders, inadequate visibility, among others.
The Permanent Secretary in Rwanda’s Ministry of the East African Community, William Kayonga, observed that the move signifies the partner states’ commitment to regional integration.
“It shows that there is an increase in the number of cases in the court, especially, commercial cases that require daily handling, not on an ad hoc basis as has been the case. The increase of cases indicates that there is more deepening of integration”, he said.
The East African Court of Justice was established under Article 9 of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community, and its major responsibility is to ensure the adherence to law in the interpretation and application of and compliance with the Treaty.
The court also has jurisdiction to hear and determine disputes between the Community and its employees arising from the terms and conditions of employment or the interpretation and application of the staff rules and regulations.
EACJ has always urged the member states to utilise it to settle arbitration matters instead of sending them to Europe or elsewhere.
Members of the Court and the East African Legislative Assembly have previously accused member states of not referring cases to it yet the court has built capacity to handle the regional disputes.
The decision to have permanent residence of judges in the regional court was taken recently in Bujumbura during a Heads of State summit.
Contact email: eric.kabeera[at]newtimes.co.rw, edwin.musoni[at]newtimes.co.rw