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BECAUSE A JUDGEMENT IS A NULLITY DOES NOT MEAN IT IS NON-EXISTENT

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I must observe that in trying to answer these important questions, learned counsel for the respondents tried to take umbrage under the statement of Lord Denning in Macfoy v. United African Co. Ltd. (1961) 3 W.L.R. 1405 at p.1409, P.C. where he said: Any purported exercise of any function being without any legal or Constitutional authority was null and void and of no effect. . .” If an act is void, then it is in law a nullity. It is not only bad but incurably bad. There is no need for an order of the court to set it aside. It is automatically null and void without much ado, though it is sometimes convenient to have the court declare it to be so. And every proceeding, which is founded on it, is also bad and incurably bad. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stay there. It will collapse. With respects to the learned counsel for the respondents, it appears to me that the very eminent Lord Justice’s aim in this much misquoted and misapplied dictum was again talking of the effect in law of a judgment being declared void. It is “automatically null and void without more ado” and every proceeding which is founded on it is also bad and incurably bad.” His Lordship did not say that it ceases to exist as a fact. I agree with Chief Williams that there is a world of difference between saying that a judgment has no legal effect or consequences and saying that it is non-existent; between giving a judgment which is a nullity because, say, it was given without jurisdiction and saying that no judgment was given at all. The learned Justice of Appeal was, therefore, in error when he held that because the previous judgment of the Court of Appeal had been nullified by this court-for having been delivered more than three months of the conclusion of the final addresses, it follows that the judgment was non-existent. In my view, although, by its being declared a nullity, the judgment had no more any legal effect, it continued to exist de facto.

— P. Nnaemeka-Agu JSC. Gbaniyi Osafile v. Paul Odi (SC 149/1987, 4th day of May 1990)

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STAGES IN JUDGEMENT WRITING AS STATED BY OPUTA JSC

Isaac Stephen v. The State (1986) 5 NWLR (Pt.46j 978 in which Oputa J.S.C. set out the stages to be followed in writing a good judgment, particularly in criminal cases. The four stages outlined by the learned Justice are as follows:- “Stage 1: If the plea of the accused is guilty no issues arise and no evidence is required. The trial court can proceed straight to judgment. But if the plea is not guilty (as it is bound to be in murder trials) then all the constituent elements of the offence charged are put in issue. And the onus lies heavily on the prosecution to prove the offence charged beyond reasonable doubt. Stage 2: Issues are thus joined, evidence is led in proof or disproof of each issue. At this stage, the duty of the trial court is merely to record the evidence led and observe the demeanor of the witnesses called by either party. Stage 3: This is the most important and crucial stage as it deals with the perception of facts, evaluation of facts belief or disbelief of witnesses and findings and conclusions based on the evidence accepted by the trial court. At this stage, the trial court will briefly summarize the case of either party. This does not mean producing verbatim the evidence of the prosecution witnesses and of defence witnesses one by one but it does mean using such evidence to tell a coherent and connected story. Having done this, the trial court will then decide which story to believe. Here it is important to emphasize that the over worked expressions “I believe” or “I do not believe” have no extrinsic magic power or potency. There is nothing wrong in believing one side and disbelieving the other if either the belief or disbelief is in consonance with the natural drift of the evidence and the probabilities which on the totality of what evidence it is natural to expect. Stage 4: Having exercised his prerogative to believe or disbelieve having made his findings of fact, the trial court will then draw the necessary inference or conclusion from the facts, would then discuss the applicable law against the background of the facts as found. Any judge that follows the above pattern or something similar to it will be of invaluable help to the Courts of Appeal as well as to parties to the appeal. One would only wish that our trial courts do approach the difficult task of writing judgments in some methodical and orderly fashion.”

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COURT JUDGEMENT IS VALID UNTIL APPEALED AGAINST

The law is settled that the judgment of any competent Court, once perfected, and not appealed against, is valid and subsisting until it is set aside by competent Court or authority.

– Kekere-ekun JSC. Adegbanke v. Ojelabi (2021)

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CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE COURT MAY SET ASIDE ITS OWN JUDGEMENT

Circumstances in which a court may invoke its inherent power to set aside its judgment or order are:- (1) To correct any clerical error or mistakes arising from accidental slip or omission or to vary the judgment or order so as to give effect to its meaning or intention under the Rules of Court Order 5 rule 3 Court of Appeal Rules, 1981. (2) Until a court pronounces a judgment on merit or by consent of the parties a court retains the power to set aside its default judgment obtained in the absence of one of the parties or default of pleadings – The power to do so is however discretionary and has to be exercised judiciously. Mohammed v. Husseini (1998) 14 NWLR (Pt.584) 130; paragraphs D-E. Williams v. Hope Rising Voluntary Funds Society (1982) 1-2 SC 145; (3) Where a judgment has been obtained as a result of fraud practiced by one of the parties Ojiaka v. Ogueze(1962) 1 SCNLR 112, (1962) 1 All NLR 58; Ekerete v. Eke (1925) 6 NLR 118; Craig v. Kanseen (1943) K.B. 256; Agunbiade v. Okunoga (1961) 1 All NLR 110. (4) Where a judgment is a nullity, due to a fundamental defect which goes to the issue of jurisdiction and competence of the court. J. A. Folorunso v. Shaloub (1994) 3 NWLR (Pt.333) 413 at 422, paragraphs G-H; Skenconsult (Nig.) Ltd. Ukey (1981) 1 SC 6.

— O.O. Adekeye, JCA. Omotunde v. Omotunde (2000) – CA/I/M.57/2000

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TO VARY COURT JUDGEMENT, RESPONDENT NEEDS TO FILE RESPONDENT’S NOTICE

The 1st defendant cannot in the circumstances of this case, it not having appealed and not having filed a respondent’s notice, pray for a variation in the judgment in its favour.

— Obaseki, JSC. Foreign Finance Corp. v Lagos State Devt. & Pty. Corp. & Ors. (1991) – SC. 9/1988

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NATURE OF A CONCURRING JUDGEMENT

In Ziakade Akpobolokemi v Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho (2016) LPELR -40563(CA) thus: “A concurring judgment complements, edifies and adds to the leading judgment. It could at times be an improvement of the leading judgment when the justices add to it certain aspects which the writer of the leading judgment did not remember to deal with. In so far as a concurring judgment performs some or all the above functions, it has equal force with or as the leading judgment in so far as the principles of stare decisis are concerned.”

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FINAL EXERCISE OF JUDGEMENT MUST INVOLVE CONSIDERATION OF ALL THE CORRESPONDENCE ON BOTH SIDES

The final exercise of judgment must of necessity involve a consideration of all the correspondence that is properly put in evidence by both sides, all the correspondence tendered in order to establish the case and all that produced in order to disprove the existence of a contract. It is only after such detailed consideration that a tribunal can fairly come to a conclusion as to whether or not the parties actually arrived at an agreement. See Thomas Hussey v. Horne-Payne (1879) 4 App. Cas. 311. The task of analysing the several letters and attempts to reconcile the one with the other is undoubtedly a very difficult one calling for the most serious examination of each and every one of several documents until the tribunal is able to say whether a contract is indeed established.

— Coker JSC. Shell Bp Petroleum Dev. Co. v. Jammal Engineering (Nigeria) Limited (1974)

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