What is the significance of the African Court’s Introduction of the Defense Office?

One of the innovations of the Malabo Protocol is to establish a Defence Office as a separate organ of the Court, equal to the Office of the Prosecutor.  The Defence Office will ensure the rights of suspects and accused persons, as well as any other persons entitled to legal assistance. In this respect, it will provide assistance to defence counsel, including legal research, collection of evidence, and provision of advice; will ensure that there are adequate facilities available to defence counsel; and may appear before the Court regarding specific issues.  The Defence Office will be headed by a Principal Defender, to be appointed by the AU Assembly. Other staff in the Office will be appointed by the Principal Defender in accordance with the AU’s Staff Rules and Regulations. This is only the second time a supra-national court has created a defence office as an organ of the court, the first being the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The Special Court for Sierra Leone also had an Office of the Principal Defender, though that office was part of the registry and therefore not an independent organ.

Structure of the African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples’ Rights[1]

[1] The Malabo Protocol does not explicitly provide that each deputy registrar will have responsibility for one of the sections of the court, nor does the Protocol specify that the deputy prosecutors will be responsible for investigations and prosecutions, respectively.  This information comes from Vincent Nmehielle, who was Legal Counsel of the African Union during part of the period during which the Malabo Protocol was under consideration.