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WHAT IS PROOF IN LAW

Dictum

Proof in law, is a process by which the existence of facts is established to the satisfaction of the Court, see Section 121 of the Evidence Act, 2011; Olufosoye v. Fakorede (1993) 1 NWLR (Pt. 272) 747; Awuse v. Odili (2005) 16 NWLR (Pt. 952) 416; Salau v. State (2019) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1699) 399. (Pt. 1372) 474; APC v. Karfi (2018) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1616) 479; Ojobo v Moro (2019) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1700) 166.

— O.F. Ogbuinya JCA. Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc v. Longterm Global Cap. Ltd. & Ors. (September 20 2021, ca/l/1093/2017)

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BURDEN OF PROOF ON HE WHO WILL FAIL

In civil cases the burden of first proving the existence or non-existence of a fact lies on the party against whom the judgment of the court would be given if no evidence were produced on either side, regard being had to any presumption that may arise on the pleadings.

– Niki Tobi, JSC. Calabar CC v. Ekpo (2008)

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THE TWO DISTINCT MEANINGS OF BURDEN OF PROOF

This position reminds one of the decision of this Court in Elemo v Omolade (1968) NMLR 359, where it was held that burden of proof has two distinct and frequently confusing meanings. It means: (a) the burden of proof as a matter of law and pleadings; the burden as it has been called of establishing a case whether by preponderance of evidence or beyond reasonable doubt; and (b) the burden of proof in the sense of introducing evidence. As regards the first meaning attached to the term, “burden of proof”, this rests upon the party whether plaintiff or defendant who substantially asserts the affirmative of the issue. It is fixed at the beginning of the trial by the state of the pleadings and it is settled as a question of law, remaining unchanged throughout the trial exactly where the pleadings place it and never shifting in any circumstances whatever. In deciding what party asserts the affirmative, regard must be had to the substance of the issue, and not merely to its grammatical form which later the pleader can frequently vary at will. A negative allegation must not be confounded with the mere traverse of an affirmative one. The true meaning of the rule is that where a given allegation whether affirmative or negative forms an essential part of a party’s case, the proof of such allegation rests on him. While the burden in the first sense is always stable, the burden of proof in the second sense may shift consistently more as one scale of evidence or the other preponderates. In this sense, the onus probandi rests upon the parties who would fail if no evidence at all or no more evidence is gone into upon the party asserting the affirmative or the party against whom the tribunal at the time the question arises would give judgment if no further evidence were adduced. The test as to who is to begin is determined by asking how judgment would be entered on the pleadings if no evidence at all were given on either side. The party against whom judgment would in that event be given is entitled to begin.

— Niki Tobi, JSC. Buhari v. INEC (2008) – SC 51/2008

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CIVIL SUIT IS DECIDED ON THE BALANCE OF PROBABILITIES

Now, civil suits are decided on the balance of probabilities, on the preponderance of evidence. The burden of proof is not static but shifts and the onus of adducing further evidence is on the person who will fail if such evidence is not adduced. See Osuji v Eke [2009] 16 NWLR (Pt 1166) 81.

— O.A. Obaseki-Osaghea, J. Akinsete v Westerngeco (2014) – NICN/LA/516/2012

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FACTS IN DEFENSE CASE MAY STRENGTHEN CLAIMANT’S CASE, AND MAY BE RELIEF UPON

There is no doubt that in civil matters, the onus of proof shifts as the evidence preponderates. I need to say here that a Plaintiff, as the Respondent herein, must succeed on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the defence … The rule however changes if the Plaintiff finds in the evidence of the defence facts which strengthen his own case. Where the exception has not happened, the Plaintiff’s case must fail. See Ezekiel Oyinloye v. Babalola Esinkin & Ors. (1999) 5 SCNJ Pg. 278 at 288; Akande v. Adisa & Anor. (2012) 15 NWLR Pt. 1324 Pg. 538 SC; Omoregie v. Aiwerioghene (1994) 1 NWLR Pt. 318 at 488.

— H.M. Ogunwumiju, JCA. First Bank v Oronsaye (2019) – CA/B/335/13

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FACTS ADMITTED NEEDS NO FURTHER PROOF

U.D.F.U. v. Kraus (2001) 24 WRN 78 @ p. 91, where it was held firmly inter alia thus: “The law is unequivocal that a fact admitted by the Defendant in his pleading must be taken by a Court of law as established and should therefore be treated as one of the agreed facts between the parties to the suit. Indeed, these facts are directly admitted as in the instant case or deemed admitted as provided for in the Rules of Court dealing with pleadings, such averments do not need to be processed in Court … The judgement of the Court delivered on 17|2|97 based on the admission cannot be faulted.”

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APPELLANT MUST SUCCEED ON ITS OWN BRIEF – WHERE RESPONDENT FILED NO BRIEF

An issue may then be raised as to whether the non-filing of the Respondent’s Brief of Argument will make the Appellants appeal to succeed. All the some, the non-filing of the Brief of Argument in respect of this appeal by the Respondent to the issues ventilated by the Appellant in his Brief of Argument does not mean that it is a work-over for the Appellant. The Appellant still has to justify the appeal against the judgment or decision of the Learned trial Judge based on the strength of his case as borne and by the Records of appeal in this matter. The failure of a Respondent to file a reply Brief is immaterial. This is because an Appellant will succeed on the strength of his own case. But a Respondent will be deemed to have admitted the truth of everything stated in the Appellant’s Brief in so far as such is borne out by the Records. In other words, it is not automatic. An Appellant must succeed or fall on his own Brief.

– P.O. Elechi, JCA. Emori v. Egwu (2016) – CA/C/259/2013

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