The Role of the East African Court of Justice In The East African Community

Last year, the Supreme Court of Kenya banned Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi and his firm from appearing before it. In response, Ahmednasir went to the East African Court of Justice to challenge the ban as a violation of his rights. He argues that the ban breaches the East African Community Treaty by violating principles of human rights and fair administration of justice.

The EAC Treaty mandates that member states uphold these principles, ensuring that individuals have access to justice and fair treatment in legal processes. By denying Ahmednasir an audience, the lawyer contends that he is being denied a fair hearing and in so doing, his rights, which are protected under the treaty, are being violated.

So what is the East African Court of Justice and what is the East African Community Treaty?

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) is a regional judicial body established to ensure that the laws in the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community (EAC) are followed and correctly applied.

The East African Community Treaty, also known as the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community is the foundational agreement that sets up the East African Community. The East African Community is a regional intergovernmental organization that aims to promote economic, social and political cooperation among its member states. So the EAC Treaty outlines the principles, objectives and institutional framework for the EAC, which includes Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

The East African Court of Justice is one of the organs of the EAC. It is divided into two divisions:

  • First Instance Division: This division handles the initial hearing of the cases
  • Appellate Division: This division deals with appeals from the First Instance Division, providing a higher level of scrutiny and review.

Its composition consists of:

  • Judges: The Court is composed of judges appointed by the East African Community Heads of State Summit. The Judges are selected from among nationals of the EAC member states.
  • President and Principal Judge: The EACJ is headed by a President and a Principal Judge, each overseeing one of the two divisions.

The East African Court of Justice has jurisdiction over matters related to the interpretation and application of the East African Community Treaty. This includes:

  • Interpretation of the Treaty: The EACJ provides authoritative interpretations of the provisions in the treaty.
  • Advisory Opinions: It can issue advisory opinions upon request from any EAC member state or institution.
  • Application of the Treaty: The Court ensures that the treaty is correctly applied by member states and institutions.
  • Disputes between Member States: The EACJ resolves any disputes between member states arising from the treaty.
  • Individual Applications: Individuals, companies, or organizations can bring cases directly before the EACJ if their rights under the treaty are violated.
  • Review of Decisions: The Court reviews decisions of the EAC institutions, including the East African Legislative Assembly.

The establishment of the East African Court of Justice is a commitment by the East African Community member states to deepen regional integration and cooperation. It ensures that the member states and other EAC institutions adhere to the rule of law as agreed upon in the EAC Treaty.

The EACJ, while primarily focussed on interpreting the EAC Treaty, has increasingly been called upon to address human rights violations, contributing to the protection and promotion of basic rights and freedoms in East Africa.

So in summary, the East African Court of Justice plays a crucial role in promoting regional integration, rule of law and good governance within the East African Community. It is vital for maintaining a consistent legal framework, resolving disputes and upholding human rights within the East African Community. This eventually contributes to the region’s stability.

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