▪ Honourable Vice-President and Judges of the Court
▪ Dr Robert Eno, Registrar of the Court
▪ Members of the Registry
▪ Distinguished counsel, lawyers, and other stakeholders attending the present event
▪ All protocol observed
Opening Address by H
In his famous speech, “The traditions of the Bar”, Lord Denning emphasized fairness as being the main guiding principle of a great advocate whom he said must alert the court to jurisprudence that is in the interest of justice. Lord Denning went further to state that “Every member of the Bar knows how essential it is to be fair. The country demands it. The judges require it.” It is in the same vein that in his book, Lawyers and Ethics, Gavin Mackenzie writes that “Ultimately, unfair … behavior impairs the ability of advocates to perform their function properly and the public interest demands that matters entrusted to lawyers be dealt with effectively and expeditiously”.
Distinguished counsel and participants to this fourth training, these reflections echoe well the role that you are called to play in the work of an institution as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. I find it redundant to refer you again to the provisions of the Court’s statutes that govern fair trial and the right to justice; the critical importance of legal representation has been stressed by the Court in its 2
abundant case-law on the question from the inaugurating Alex Thomas ruling to most elaborate recent judgments. I have chosen to rather frame my remarks around what I believe are the two major functions that you should seek to perform or rather the two main goals to pursue subsequent to your attendance in the present training. These are firstly to represent applicants before the Court, but secondly, and ultimately to assist the Court in administering human rights justice under the standards of the Charter and the African human rights system as a whole. These functions can be best performed by ensuring that you frame litigation and submissions in a manner that helps the Court make meaningful and life changing decisions not only for individual applicants or victims but for domestic and regional systems. I refer to such advocacy and litigation that would aim to shape legislation both within the African Union in terms of strengthening our regional adjudication platform but also at domestic level in a way that avail member states with strategic solutions to national and regional legal harmonization.
Very importantly, litigation should be intelligent so not to hinger adjudication such as where the matter brought would not be sufficiently tailored to suit specific purposes and embrace public utility. This is where our tradition of regularly holding training of counsel of the Court becomes relevant. While, without any doubt, you have been listed under national bars as the best practitioners, it is essential that, as counsel before the African Court you are abreast of the technical peculiarities of international human rights litigation with a focus on the African Court context and how it applies to the realities of member states systems whether legal, social, political or economic. In short, the function which you are called to perform as counsel before the African Court is that of agents to African human rights justice; that of agents of change in Africa’s peculiar context; in other words, the function of agents of legal intelligence. This changing role of yours is fully justified by the shift from initial trainings of counsel to merely establish a list of recognized 3
representatives of applicants to taking litigation to the next level. The next level of litigation and legal representation before the African Court should be that of achieving the main goal of the Court regarding the human rights justice project designed by the African Court of an Africanised approach to human rights justice that speaks to local context without however departing from major internationally shared standards. This shift must be stressed in an environment of various emerging challenges facing the continent right from virtual administration of justice to changing justice systems and operation of domestic judiciaries to complex questions of governance, elections, regional rule of law, and the very trendy question of the democracy crisis which is also a global topic. In such context, effective representation before such a dynamic tribunal as the African Court can only means reinventing counselling and litigation.
In light of your backgrounds and the very able training faculty with whom you will engage over the next days, I am confident that the African Court will gain immensely in its judicial work and overall operation. It is often said that there cannot be best Court and best judgments without able counsel. I therefore invite you to engage with the Court officers in such spirit and wish you a fruitful and innovative engagements.
It is on these premises that I declare open the fourth training of counsel of the African Court, and thank you for your kind attention.