Historic

 

The Supreme Court, with seat in Yaounde is the incarnation of justice raised to a judicial power.
It is also at the apex of the judicial system of the country, which system has experienced a lot of changes.
 
Following the Germano-Douala Treaty signed on 12 July 1884 in Douala - which in fact was a protectorate agreement between German businessmen and the Douala chiefs - Cameroon became a German colony and remained so up to the dual occupation of the country in 1916 by the troops of French General AYMERICH and English General DOBELL
 
This military occupation led to the partitioning of the country into two separate entities later on known as WEST CAMEROON and EAST CAMEROON.
 
This partition in turn led to the setting up on either side of the Mungo of two legal systems; the one, of Romano-Germanic tradition and the other, of Anglo-Saxon inspiration.
These systems functioned in the different parts during the League of Nations and the United Nations trusteeship under France and Great Britain.
 
The East Cameroon judicial system was reformed by Ordinance No.59/86 of 17 December 1959 just a few days before the proclamation of the independence of the autonomous regions of A.E.F.  on 1 January 1960
At the peak of the judicial system was the Supreme Court to which an Audit Bench was added in1961 (Law No.61/3 of 4 April 1961).
East Cameroon reunited with West Cameroon, an autonomous state within the Federation of Nigeria since 1954. On 1 October 1961 Cameroon became a Federal Republic.
 
Under this new dispensation, to sever the umbilical cord with the Lagos Court of Appeal and thus improve on the judicial organization of this Federated state (former West Cameroon), a Federal Ordinance of 16 October 1961 was signed to set up the Court of Appeal, Buea - the equivalent of the Supreme Court.
 
At the federal level a Federal Court of Justice was set up in the same crucial year of 1961 by Law No. 61/24 of 1 September 1961 to amend the Constitution.
 
This Court had jurisdiction to determine:
  1. The constitutionality and legality of instruments;
  2. Conflict of jurisdiction between the highest courts of the federated states;
  3. Interpretation of Federal Law;
  4. Administrative disputes;
  5. Disputes between federated states or between the Federal Republic and the federated states.
The main disadvantage of the federal system was the extreme complexity of all the institutions functioning in the country and the ensuing financial burden on the State.
On 20 May 1972, following a referendum, the Federal State became a unitary state called, the United Republic of Cameroon.
All institutions of the new State underwent some changes to comply with its new structure and Constitution.
At the judicial level, Ordinance No.72/4 of 26 August 1972 was signed to organize the judiciary of the state.
 
 
  1. The two highest courts of the federated states vanished with the states.
  2. The Federal Court of Justice gave way to a new institution, the Supreme Court, whose organisation and functioning were laid down in Ordinance No.72/6 of 26 August 1972:
  • Besides the functions provided for in Articles 7, 10 and 27 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to rule on:
  • Appeals accepted by the law against final rulings delivered by the various courts and tribunals of the judicial system;
  • Judgments passed by the lower courts of the judicial system that have become final in cases where the application of the law is challenged;
  • Applications for bail filed by persons in detention whose appeals are admissible;
  • Administrative disputes ruled on in the first instance by the Administrative Bench and in the last instance by the Full Bench.
The new judicial system is a synthesis of the two systems thus making the legal system of Cameroon unique.
 
The synthesis is translated:
 

1- At the level of the court : 

  • on the one hand, by maintaining the two types of court, dear to the French Revolutionaries of 1789, with an Administrative Court within the Supreme Court that has jurisdiction to rule on administrative matters and;

  • on the other hand, by a single court at the apex of the judicial system, following an established principle in the Anglo-Saxon system, with a Supreme Court that has jurisdiction to rule on all kinds of disputes.

2- At the level of dressing during court sessions:

  • by robes and adornments which magistrates wear during court sessions and some ceremonies, a purely French tradition; while the ceremonial full bottom wig and Judges Bench Wig are a carry-over from British tradition . 
 
3- At the level of legislation:
 
  • by remarkably great strides made since then in Criminal, Labour and other matters.
It should be noted that no modifications were made at the level of judicial institutions following the changeover of the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon in 1984.
The latest reform is that introduced in the Constitution which, in Part V, Articles 37-42 sets up a judicial power alongside the others and gives the Supreme Court its present configuration, which will be examined in detail below. 
 
The Supreme Court shall therefore give final rulings on appeals accepted by the law against final rulings given by the various courts and tribunals of the judicial system (Courts of First Instance, High Courts, and Courts of Appeal).
 
As such, its main duty is to ensure the proper application of the rule of law and give final rulings. Besides, it is referred to as the judge of law unlike the judge of facts.
 
However, it is worth noting that a growing trend in comparative law confers on the Supreme Court jurisdiction as a third-tier trial court when the finding of facts of the lower courts justifies the application of a legal rule.
 
Besides its traditional role, which is to ensure the proper application of the rule of law by reviewing final judgments and rulings rendered by lower courts, it equally contributes to the transparent management of the finances of the State, decentralized public authorities and decentralized local authorities through the auditing of their accounts.
 
Furthermore, it sits as the Constitutional Council pending the setting up of this institution in accordance with the provisions of 18 January 1996.
 
It also participates, alongside the other state authorities, through its transversal action, in regulating social life, good governance in economic matters, protection and promotion of human rights, harmonious functioning of State institutions, consolidation of the rule of law and the ensuing social peace.
 
However, in spite of the scope and diversity of its functions, the Supreme Court, given the specificity and complexity of its rules of procedure, does not seem to be readily accessible.
Besides, the common man does not seem to be very familiar with the legal jargon here which, to say the least, is esoteric.
 
In fact, some words in common use have different meanings in legal parlance. For instance a word like prescription has different meanings depending on whether you are in the pharmacy or in court.
 
This guide aims at giving a simple and clear presentation of the Supreme Court by briefly explaining its organization, functioning, procedures and some of its extrajudicial activities.
The aim is to acquaint litigants and law practitioners with the machinery of the Supreme Court.
 
English