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FAILURE TO OBSERVE FEAR HEARING VITIATES THE ENTIRE PROCEEDINGS

Dictum

The law is now well settled that failure of a Court, such as the Court below in the instant appeal, to observe the right to fair hearing of a party in any proceedings before it, vitiates both the proceedings and the resultant decision of the Court whose proceedings is afflicted by the deadly, incurable and highly contagious virus of denial of fair hearing and this is notwithstanding the merit or otherwise of the respective cases of the parties or indeed how meticulous the proceedings were or even how sound the resultant decision is, they are all a nullity. This, in my finding, is the sure but unfortunate fate of the proceedings and ruling of the Court below as it affects the petition filed by the Appellant against the Respondent in this appeal, which ruling was clearly reached in flagrant breach of the Appellant’s right to fair hearing. This is so because in law the principles of fair hearing are not only fundamental to adjudication but they are also constitutional requirements which cannot be legally wished away. It is indeed a fundamental right of universal application. See Agbapuonwu V. Agbapuonwu (1991) 1 NWLR (Pt. 165) 33 @ p. 40. See also Agbogu V. Adiche (Supra) @p. 531; J.O.E. Co. Ltd V. Skye Bank Plc (2009) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1138) @p.518; Robert C. Okafor & Ors V. AG and Commissioner for Justice Anambra State (1991) 6 NWLR (PT.200) 659.

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

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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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WHEN FAIR HEARING IS BREACHED, PROCEEDING BECOMES A NULLITY

So, is a complaint alleging the breach of the right to fair hearing as constitutionally guaranteed one of mere technicality? I think not. If not then is it one of substantial justice? I very much think so! The fulcrum of this issue therefore, is the vexed issue of when in law can a proceedings of a Court and the resultant decision be said to be in breach of the right to fair hearing as constitutionally guaranteed to the parties before the Courts in the determination of their civil rights and obligations? This is so because, the effect of a breach of the right to fair hearing, if made out, would almost invariably render such proceedings and resultant decision a nullity. See Ekpenetu V. Ofegobi (2012) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1323) 276; Amadi V. INEC (2013) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1345) 595; Ovunwo & Anor. V. Woko & Ors (2011) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1277) 522; Pan African Incorporation & Ors. V. Shoreline Lifeboat Ltd & Anor. (2010) All FWLR (Pt. 524)56; Action Congress of Nigeria v. Sule Lamido & ors (2012) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1303) 560 @ p. 593; Judicial Service Commission of Cross River State & Anor. V. Dr(Mr) Asari Young (2013) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1364) 1.

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

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DECISION VOID WHERE NATURAL JUSTICE IS ABSENT

Adigun v. Attorney- General of Oyo State (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt. 56) 197 where the Supreme Court stated: “If the principles of natural justice are violated in respect of any decision, it is indeed immaterial, whether the same decision would have been arrived at in the absence of the departure from the essential principles of justice. The decision must be declared as no decision.”

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FAIR HEARING IS TO BE JUDGED BY THE NATURE AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

The question of fair hearing is not just an issue of dogma. Whether or not a party has been denied of his right to fair hearing is to be judged by the nature and circumstances surrounding a particular case; the crucial determinant is the necessity to afford the parties equal opportunity to put their case to the court before the court gives its judgment. In the instant case, there has been no complaint that the respondents were granted advantages or special favours in the presentation of their case which were denied to the appellants. A complaint founded on a denial of fair hearing is an invitation to the court hearing the appeal to consider whether or not the court against which a complaint is made has been generally fair on the basis of equality to all the parties before it.

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

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COURT WILL SET ASIDE MOTION EX PARTE MADE ON SUPPRESSED FACT – ISSUE OF FAIR HEARING DOES NOT ARISE

Further, the Appellant alleged lack of fair hearing, to this I would say that the allegation was not substantiated. It is not enough to waive the flag of lack of fair hearing and nothing more. Fair hearing is a two way traffic which both parties ought to enjoy or entitled to. The Respondent in the present case was entitled to be heard before an order that affects him should be made and having been made ex – parte, the Respondent was entitled to have it reviewed by the trial court after other facts with exhibits in support were made known to the lower court as deposed in the affidavit in support of the application to set aside the ex – parte order before the expiration of the 120 days granted. See, MFA & ORS VS. INONGHA (2014) (supra). If the Appellant had laid down the facts of the case as they were at the time the lower court granted the application, the lower court would not have been misled to have granted the ex – parte order which the court set aside, that led to the present appeal, had the facts not been suppressed the lower court would have arrived at a different decision.

— C.N. Uwa, JCA. FRN v Ozekhome (2021) – CA/L/174/19

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FAIR HEARING IS NOT A SPARE PART

Adebayo v. AG, Ogun State (2008) LPELR – 80 (SC) 23 – 24 “I have seen in recent times that parties who have bad cases embrace and make use of the constitutional provision of fair hearing to bamboozle the adverse party and the Court, with a view to moving the Court away from the live issues in the litigation. They make so much weather and sing the familiar song that the constitutional provision is violated or contravened. They do not stop there. They rake the defence in most inappropriate cases because they have nothing to canvass in their favour in the case. The fair hearing provision in the Constitution is the machinery or locomotive of justice; not a spare part to propel or invigorate the case of the user. It is not a casual principle of law available to a party to be picked up at will in a case and force the Court to apply it to his advantage. On the contrary, it is a formidable and fundamental constitutional provision available to a party who is really denied fair hearing because he was not heard or that he was not properly heard in the case. Let litigants who have nothing useful to advocate in favour of their cases, leave the fair hearing constitutional provision alone because it is not available to them just for the asking.”

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