Overview of Cote d'Ivoire's legal system and recent reforms

Côte d’Ivoire’s constitution establishes the country as a republic operating a unitary system of government, with a legislature, an executive branch and an independent judiciary. The legal system is based on the civil code tradition rather than the British system of common law, reflecting the nation’s history as a French colony.

The judicial framework is made up of three parts. The first is the Constitutional Court, which has exclusive jurisdiction over constitutional issues, including the interpretation of the constitution and the resolution of presidential election disputes. The second is the civil courts, which are concerned with areas such as criminal cases, labour and employment disputes, family law and land disputes while the third branch of the framework is a recent addition, and represents an attempt by the government to improve the legal system as it applies to the business community and investors.

Commercial Courts

The Commercial Court was established in 2012 to handle business cases, and was upgraded the following year to become the Commercial Chamber of the Court of Appeals. A plan to extend the court to cities other than Abidjan has yet to be realised. Companies operating in Côte d’Ivoire also have access to an arbitration framework, which recognises the decisions made by foreign arbitration centres.

Adoption Of Legal Standards

The creation and interpretation of law in Côte d’Ivoire is aided by its membership in a number of regional organisations, including UEMOA, ECOWAS, the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa, the African Intellectual Property Organisation and the Inter-African Conference on Insurance Markets.

With regard to arbitration, Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory of the New York Convention, which commits it to recognising arbitration awards made in other contracting states, as well as the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. Regulations and legislation on trade issues are also circumscribed by the country’s membership in the World Trade Organisation.

Efficiency

However, while the legal framework is both broad and well defined, its implementation by the judicial system is sometimes problematic, particularly in the civil court system, where a large backlog of cases and a poor prosecutorial record – a legacy of the country’s political turbulence over the past decade – has somewhat hampered progress.

While commercial courts have largely avoided the same volume of bottlenecks as the civil courts, limited efficiency means that the country’s judicial system can dampen investment. The US Department of State in its 2016 evaluation of the judicial system noted that it is “generally seen as dysfunctional”, observing that the enforcement of contracts is often time-consuming and expensive, and that judges sometimes rule in favour of entrenched interests, or fail to base decisions on the legal or contractual merits of the case. Moreover, cases are randomly assigned to judges, but are done so manually, opening up room for outside influence. As is the case throughout many emerging and frontier markets, while the judgements of foreign courts are recognised, local enforcement can be challenging, which has led to foreign investors including an international commercial arbitration clause in contracts, although these too are sometimes ignored by local courts.

Reforms

The Ivorian government is aware of these issues and has responded to the challenges by implementing reform measures. Current plans include the introduction of three-judge panels for some cases, replacing the single-judge system; speeding up the publication of legal decisions; enhancing the IT infrastructure of the court system; training judges in commercial law; and tackling the backlog of commercial cases by increasing the number of appeals courts.

The reforms are beginning to bear fruit. The most recent World Bank ease of doing business index for 2017 placed Côte d’Ivoire’s contract enforcement in 101st place in a ranking of 189 countries, a significant improvement from 118th the previous year.

 

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Cover of The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2017

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This article is from the Country Profile chapter of The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2017. Explore other chapters from this report.