Close ties between regional and national courts critical to fortify regional integration

There is need for Courts of Justice of the various Regional Economic Communities to have regular interactions with national courts and tribunals to come up with ways in which they can harmonise interpretation of treaties from within their regions.

This is informed not only by the overlapping membership of states to the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and similarities in the treaties, but more importantly, the need of the judiciary at both levels to complement each other in providing a pillar of confidence to investors and other actors in the theatre of regional integration.

This emerged during a retreat by Judges of the COMESA Court of Justice (CCJ), that took place in Naivasha, Kenya from 15 – 18 March 2019. It was intended to deepen the judges understanding of the recently adopted and implemented Electronic Evidence Management System known as CaseLines as the COMESA Treaty.

The Judge President, Hon. Lady Justice Lombe Chibesakunda delivered the opening remarks at the retreat whose theme was: “The contribution of COMESA Court of Justice in ensuring the achievement of the aims and objectives of the COMESA Treaty”.

Several eminent legal minds and scholars delivered lectures to the judges. They included Hon. Dr. Justice Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, the President of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) who expounded on several decisions of the Court, including some that reiterated the mandate of the Court in interpreting the EAC Treaty whose equivalence is Article 30 of the COMESA Treaty).

Former Judge of the CCJ Appellate Division who is also an arbitrator of wide experience Hon. Dr. Justice Borhan Amrallah provided insights on the arbitral jurisdiction of the court on Article 28 of the COMESA Treaty which provides the court jurisdiction for arbitration clause and special agreements.

Dr. Francis Mangeni, Director of Trade and Customs at COMESA, address the Judges some of the barriers to trade within COMESA and the nature of disputes that could find their way into the CCJ. Among these is the levying of customs duty for goods exported from one COMESA Member State to another where the exporter has complied with the requirements of Rules of Origin (RoO). He explained the requirements for issuance of a Certificate of Origin and pointed out that the landmark Polytol case whose judgement was anchored on this issue.

Polytol, an Egyptian Company won a case against Mauritius over the latter’s decision to levy custom duties on products originating in a Member States of COMESA under the Free Trade Area.

Prof. Gerhard Erasmus, a Legal Expert and Associate with the Trade Law Centre (tralac) took the judges through the latest developments within the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and its relationship with existing (RECs). His topic touched on BREXIT and the implications this might have on COMESA and other African RECS.

Mr. Lindsay Walsh took the Judges through the CaseLines System which uses a software that eliminates the need for paper in court. The system provides a digital platform with tools which allow the creation and presentation of a fully digital bundle including multi-media evidence; collaboration tools for enhanced pre-trial preparation and secure role validated videoconferencing for virtual hearings.

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