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INTERPRETATION OF CONSTITUTION IS DIFFERENT FROM INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES

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It is pertinent to state that unlike interpretation of statutes, the interpretation of Constitution has its own guiding principles. In FRN V NGANJIWA, which was cited by the Petitioners as SC/794/2019, but which is reported as FRN v NGANJIWA (2022) LPELR-58066(SC), the Supreme Court has succinctly reviewed decided cases on interpretation of the Constitution and outlined these guiding principles: ) In interpreting the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, mere technical rules of interpretation of statutes should be avoided, so as not to defeat the principles of government enshrined therein. Hence a broader interpretation should be preferred, unless there is something in the text or in the rest of the Constitution to indicate that a narrower interpretation will best carry out the objects and purpose of the Constitution. (b) All Sections of the Constitution are to be construed together and not in isolation. (c) Where the words are clear and unambiguous, a literal interpretation will be applied, thus according the words their plain and grammatical meaning. (d) Where there is ambiguity in any Section, a holistic interpretation would be resorted to in order to arrive at the intention of its framers. (e) Since the draftsperson is not known to be extravagant with words or provisions, every section should be construed in such a manner as not to render other sections redundant or superfluous. (f) If the words are ambiguous, the law maker’s intention must be sought, first, in the Constitution itself, then in other legislation and contemporary circumstances and by resort to the mischief rule. (g) The proper approach to the construction of the Constitution should be one of liberalism and it is improper to construe any of the provisions of the Constitution as to defeat the obvious ends which the Constitution was designed to achieve. See also on this: NAFIU RABIU V STATE (1980) 8-11 S.C. 130 at 148; A.G. BENDEL STATE V A.G. FEDERATION & ORS (1981) N.S.C.C. 314 at 372 – 373; BUHARI v OBASANJO (2005) 13 NWLR (Pt. 941) 1 at 281; SAVANNAH BANK LTD v AJILO (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt. 97) 305 at 326; and A.G., ABIA STATE V A.G. FEDERATION (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 275) 414 at 450, which were also referred to by the Apex Court.

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Atiku v PDP (CA/PEPC/05/2023, 6th of September, 2023)

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STATUTE SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED TO TAKE AWAY PROPERTY RIGHT WITHOUT COMPENSATION

Therefore, the cardinal rule of construction and interpretation of statutes is that unless there is express provision in clear and unambiguous words within a statute expropriating the property of a person, the statute should be construed in favour of the person in whom the property has been vested and it should not be construed so as to deprive the person of his property without compensation. This rule of interpretation is in accord with the provisions of
Sections 31 and 40 of our 1963 and 1979 Constitutions respectively which enjoined compulsory acquisition of property without compensation.

– M. Bello, CJN. Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

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WE SHOULD AVOID INTERPRETATION WHICH WOULD REDUCE THE LEGISLATIVE TO FUTILITY

Nokes v. Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries, Limited (1940) A,C, 1014, Viscount Simon, L.C, staled at page 1022: “If the choice is between two interpretations, the narrower of which will fail to achieve the manifest purpose of the legislation, we should avoid a construction which would reduce the legislation to futility and should rather accept the bolder construction based on the view that Parliament would legislate only for the purpose of bringing about an effective result.”

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EXCEPT DECLARED, STATUTES DOES NOT MAKE ALTERATION IN THE COMMON LAW

Halsbury’s Laws of England, Volume 14 paragraphs 904 and 906, which read: “Except insofar as they are clearly and unambiguously intended to do so, statutes should not be construed so as to make any alteration in the common law or to change any established principle of law, or to alter completely the character of the principle of law contained in statutes which they merely amend. There is no presumption that by legislating Parliament intended to change the law. ” “Unless it is clearly and unambiguously intended to do so, a statute should not be construed so as to interfere with or prejudice established private rights under contracts or the title to property, or so as to deprive a man of his property without his having an opportunity of being heard.”

– Cited in Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

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WHEN INTERPRETING A CONTRACTUAL DOCUMENT THE WHOLE DOCUMENT SHOULD BE TAKEN CONSIDERATION OF

I am in full support of the submission of appellant’s counsel that it was a misdirection for the lower court in consideration of whether the land, the subject matter in controversy, was bare land or included the structures thereon to have relied on only clauses 3 and 6 in the entire lease agreement to arrive at its conclusion. The learned Justices of the lower court were clearly in error because it is a fundamental rule of construction of instruments that its several clauses, must be interpreted harmoniously so that the various parts of the instrument are not brought in conflict to their natural meaning. Emphasising the same point, the learned authors of Halsbury’s Laws of England. Vo1.12, (4th ed.) para. 1469) stated tersely but pointedly: “The best construction of deeds is to make one part of the deed expound the other, and so make all the parts agree. Effect must, so far as possible, be given to every word and every clause.” The same principle was approved by this Court in Lamikoro Ojokolobo & Ors. v. Lapade Alamu & Anor. (1987) 7 SCNJ 98, (1987) 3 NWLR (pt.61) 339. Surely, a fragmentary interpretation of the various clause of the lease agreement without recourse to the entire Lease Agreement would do violence to the content in which the controversial terms “premises” and “land” were employed and therefore the ascertainment of the parties’ intention in relation to these two terms was bound to be distorted and erroneous and consequently unacceptable.

— Achike, JSC. Unilife v. Adeshigbin (2001) 4 NWLR (Pt.704) 609

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MARGINAL NOTE IS HELPFUL IN CONSTRUCTION OF A SECTION

Although the marginal note in a section is not part of the section, it is helpful even if occasionally misleading to construction, as a sign post to what the section sets out to provide.

– Karibi-whyte JSC. Idehen v. Idehen (1991) – SC. 271/1989

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IT IS BETTER TO ERR IN THE SIDE OF LIBERALISM WHEN INTERPRETING CONSTITUTION

It would be safer for the courts in this country to err on the side of liberalism whenever it comes to the interpretation of the fundamental provisions in the Constitution than to import some restrictive interpretation.

– Kayode Eso, JSC. Garba & Ors. v. The University Of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt.18) 550

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