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EXPEDITIOUS HEARING MUST BE IN ACCORDANCE WITH FAIR HEARING

Dictum

I am an adherent and a indeed devoted fan of expeditious hearing and determination of pending cases by the Courts but still it has to be in consonance with laid down rules of procedures and principles, particularly the observance of the inalienable right of the parties to be fairly heard in line with their constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing. In my view no Court no matter how zealous a Court is for the expeditious hearing and determination of matters before it can empower it to take away or infringe on the right to fair hearing of the parties and expect the Court to come out untouched by the tinge of invalidity and or nullity of both its proceedings, no matter how well conducted, and its decision, no matter how sound.

— B.A. Georgewill, JCA. UBA v. Ashimina (2018) – CA/L/1033/2014

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FAIR HEARING INCLUDES SUFFICIENT TIME GIVEN TO PRESENT DEFENCE

Here is a case where the panel has three months within which to conduct and conclude its investigation of impeachable allegations against appellant but appellant requested for a four days adjournment on health grounds and to enable two of his witnesses attend and testify on his behalf but the panel refused the request, closed the case of appellant and prepared its report which was submitted to the Taraba House of Assembly the next day. The said House proceeded on the same day of receipt of the report to remove appellant from office. In all, the proceedings lasted a period of about six days out of the three months assigned. Why all the rush one may ask. The rush in this case has obviously resulted in a breach of the right to fair hearing of appellant which in turn nullifies the proceedings of the panel. Appellant was, in the circumstances of the case not given sufficient time or opportunity to present his defence to the charges leveled against him.

– Onnoghen, J.S.C. Danladi v. Dangiri (2014)

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THE RIGHT TO BE HEARD CONNOTES AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE REPRESENTATION

Para. 53: “The Court recognizes the principles of Audi alteram partem (hear the other side) which requires that persons affected by an adverse position must be given an opportunity to make representation. The right to be heard by its own nature connotes an opportunity to be heard within a reasonable time by an impartial court or Tribunal. This right is not limited to a one on one verbal representation but encompasses every avenue accorded to a party to be heard in a matter. This Court 18 reiterated the principle that parties must be given an opportunity to be heard in any matter affecting their interest in the following words: “the right to fair hearing is a human right derived from the concept of fair hearing, in this regard, a fair trial is not only seen as an additional instrument for protection of the rights of defence largo sensu…..” See MOHAMMED TAYYIB BAH V. REP OF SIERRA LEONE JUD NO: ECW/CCJ/JUD/11/15, (Unreported) in its consideration relied on the case of Ugokwe v. Okeke (2008), CCJELR pg. 149@ 146.”

— Uuter Dery v Republic of Ghana (2019) – ECW/CCJ/JUD/17/19

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CARDINAL PRINCIPLE OF FAIR HEARING IS SACROSANCT

My lords, the point needs to be re-iterated again and again that the cardinal principle of fair hearing whether in relation to a civil or criminal matter is so sacroscent. The Latin maxim puts it this way: “Audi Alteram Partem” i.e. let the other party be heard. It simply means: hear the other side(s) in a dispute before reaching a decision. It is a constitutional requirement (Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). This Court made several pronouncements that the principle of fair hearing has been incorporated in our jurisprudence that a man cannot be condemned without being heard. The principle is applicable in all cases in which a decision is to be taken in any matter, whether in a judicial, quasijudicial or even in purely administrative proceeding involving a person’s interest in a property, right or personal liberty. Let the other party be heard! See: Adigun v. AG Oyo State (1997) ? NWLR (Pt. 678) page; Oyeyemi v. Commissioner of Local Government, Kwara State & Ors (1993) 6 NWLR (Pt. 299) 344.

— I.T. Muhammad, JSC. FRN v Maishanu (2019) – SC.51/2015

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SHOULD NOT RECEIVE EVIDENCE FROM ONE SIDE BEHIND THE BACK OF ANOTHER

Lord Denning in KANDA V GOVERNMENT OF MALAYA [1962] AC 322, stated thus: “If the right to be heard is to be real right which is worth anything, it must carry with it a right of the accused man to know the case which is made against him. He must know what evidence has been given and what statement had been made affecting him, and then must be given an opportunity to correct or contradict them. This appears in all the cases from the celebrated judgments of Lord Loreburn, L.G in The Board of Education v Rice down to the decision of their Lordships’ Board in Ceylon University v Fernando. It follows therefore that the judge or whoever has to adjudicate must not hear evidence or receive representation from one side behind the back of the other. The Court will not inquire whether the evidence did work his prejudice. The risk of it is enough. No one who has lost a case will believe he has been fairly treated if the other side has had access to the judge without his knowing.”

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FAILURE TO USE FAIR HEARING OPPORTUNITIES GIVEN

It is settled law that when a party is given the opportunity (and in this case opportunities) to be heard and such party fails to utilize it, such party cannot hide under the umbrella of the fair hearing rule. He will fail. Again, I agree with Olu Daramola (SAN) that the position of the law is that where a party has been afforded the opportunity to be heard (in this case several opportunities) and such party fails to utilize it, the party cannot approach an appellate court and claim to have been denied fair hearing.

– H.M. Ogunwumiju, JCA. ITV v. Edo Internal Revenue (2014) – CA/B/20/2013

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THE VERY ESSENCE OF FAIR HEARING UNDER SECTION 36 OF THE CONSTITUTION

The court below at pages 289 to 291 of the record in its judgment examined the appellants’ complaint as to absence of fair hearing and said: “It must be noted that the court must balance its discretionary power to grant or refuse an adjournment with its duty to endeavour to give an appellant the opportunity of obtaining substantial justice in the sense of his appeal being granted a fair hearing or even in the court below. This is because of the need that in granting the hearing on the merits no injustice is done to the other party where that opportunity or fair hearing existed in the court below, the appellate court has no business interfering. See University of Lagos v. Aigoro (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1) page 142; Ogundoyin v. Adeyemi (2001) 13 NWLR (pt. 730) 403 at 421. The very essence of fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 is a hearing which is fair to both parties to the suit; be they plaintiffs or defendants or prosecution or defence. The section does not contemplate a standard of justice which is biased in favour of one party and to the prejudice of the other. Rather, it imposes an ambidextrous standard of justice in which the court must be fair to both sides of the conflict. The hearing must be fair and in accordance with the twin pillars of justice, read as pillars of justice, namely audi alteran partem and nemo judex in causa sua per Onu J.S.C. at 421. See also Ndu v. State (1990) 7 NWLR (pt. 164) 550. A party who will be affected by result of a Judicial inquiry must be given an opportunity of being heard, Otherwise, the action taken following the inquiry will be Unconstitutional and illegal. See Ogundijun v. Adeyemi (2001) 13 NWLR (Pt. 730) 403 at 423 per Onu J.S.C. See also Atande v. State (1988) 3 NWLR (pt. 85) 681. In the light of the above I have no difficulty in Resolving this issue of fair hearing or not against the Appellant. Therefore this appeal lacking in merit is hereby dismissed.” I agree with the views expressed by the court below above. I am unable to hold that the appellants were denied their right to fair hearing as enshrined in section 36 of the 1999 Constitution.

— A. Oguntade, JSC. Pam & Anor. V Mohammed (2008) – SC.238/2007

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