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CONTEMPT: IN FACIE CURIAE VS EX FACIE CURIAE

Dictum

Here, I take liberty to restate that there are two broad classifications of contempt: that committed in facie curiae and that committed ex facie curiae. In the latter category, a charge and a plea are necessary and the accused is entitled to a fair hearing of the case against him.

– Chima Centus Nweze, J.S.C. Independent National Electoral Commission & Anor v. Ejike Oguebego & Ors (2017)

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DUE PROCEDURE MUST BE FOLLOWED FOR CONTEMPT

It is trite that contempt of Court is an office sui generis. An application for committal for any disobedience of an order of Court is a very serious matter as it involves in most cases an exceptional interference with the liberty of a subject and therefore when any antecedent process has to be put in motion every prescribed step and rule however technical should be carefully taken, observed and insisted upon. Any irregularity in the procedure for committed is a fundamental vice which vitiates the entire application.

– P.O. Elechi, JCA. Mofunanya v. Nwadiogbu (2017) – CA/E/282/2009

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PROCEDURE FOR CONTEMPT: EX FACIE CURIAE

Above all, the case must be one the facts surrounding the alleged contempt are so notorious as to be virtually incontestable, where the Judge would have to rely on evidence or testimony of witnesses to events occurring outside his view and outside of his presence in Court, he should not try the case himself. The matter must be placed before another judge where the usual procedure for the arrest, charge and prosecution of the offender must be followed, Oku v. The State. In other words, in the trial of criminal contempt ex facie curiae, an offender is entitled to the benefit of a full process of a criminal trial.

– Chima Centus Nweze, J.S.C. Independent National Electoral Commission & Anor v. Ejike Oguebego & Ors (2017)

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COURT’S POWER TO PUNISH FOR CONTEMPT

One would note that the court’s power to punish for contempt is as old as the courts themselves. In the celebrated case of Atake v. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1982) 11 S.C. 153, the Supreme Court, per Idigbe, J.S.C., had decided that the power of the court to punish for contempt is inherent and indeed preserved under Sections 6 and 36(3)(a) of the 1979 Constitution. It is undoubtedly a sine qua non to the smooth and proper administration of justice and ought to be preserved. It belongs to the realm of discretionary powers of the court. But the courts have recognised its uniqueness and have cautioned that the power to punish for contempt should be invoked sparingly.

– Achike JCA. Adeyemi v. Edigin (1990)

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POWER TO PUNISH FOR CONTEMPT IS NOT SUBJECTIVE

Clearly, it seems to me that the discretionary power of the court to punish for contempt is reviewable. Any reviewing authority is undoubtedly invited to make an objective assessment of a matter under consideration. To, therefore, hold as the lower court did, that the test regarding the power of the court to punish for contempt is subjective, is with respect, unacceptable.

– Achike JCA. Adeyemi v. Edigin (1990)

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REQUIREMENT FOR CONTEMPT IN FACIE CURIAE

For words or actions used in the face of the Court, or in the course of proceedings, to be contempt, they must be such as would interfere with the course of justice.

– Chima Centus Nweze, J.S.C. Independent National Electoral Commission & Anor v. Ejike Oguebego & Ors (2017)

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COURT MUST BE CAREFUL IN ITS COMMITTAL FOR CONTEMPT – SOME DECIDED CASES

✓ In the case of IZUORA V. QUEEN 13 WACA 313 the Appellant who was a legal practitioner had concluded arguments in a divorce matter and he sought for permission to be absent on the day judgment was to be delivered. The permission was granted by the Judge but it was withdrawn when Counsel on the other side also sought to be excused. For reasons that are not quite clear, the Appellant failed to appear before the Court on the day judgment was to be delivered. The learned Trial Judge convicted him and sentenced him for contempt of Court. In allowing his appeal and setting aside the conviction and sentence, the Court decided that not every act of discourtesy or breach of Counsel’s duty to clients would amount to contempt capable of being summarily punished, without much ado or brevi manu.

✓ In AGBACHOM V. THE STATE (1970) 1 ALL NLR 71 AT 80, the learned Trial Judge punished for contempt a party to an action before him and who had deposed to a fact in an affidavit in support of an application seeking for the transfer of the matter to another Judge. That paragraph of the affidavit stated that the learned Judge had accepted a part payment of a debt which was owed to him when he was a legal practitioner by one of the parties in the instant matter. After referring to Lord Denning in R. V. METROPOLITAN POLICE COMMISSIONER (1968) 2 ALL ER 319 at 320 Lord Goddard in SHAMDASANI V. KING EMPEROR (1945) AC 264 the Supreme emphasized that a Court must be careful in the exercise of its powers to punish for contempt. The Court emphasized that the power must be used sparingly and only in serious cases.

✓ In BOYO V. A.G. MID-WEST STATE (1971) 1 ALL NLR 343 AT 352, the Supreme Court per Ademola, CJN of 354 held that generally, contempt in the face of the Court cannot be dealt with efficiently except immediately by the very judicial officer in whose presence the offence was committed and where the offence should be dealt with summarily such a hearing must be conducted in accordance with the cardinal principle of fair process. It was also held that the case of criminal contempt capable of being punished summarily must be one in which the facts surrounding the alleged contempt are so notorious as to be virtually incontestable. This means that scrupulous care must be brought to bear on the facts and circumstances making sure that the case is very clear and beyond reasonable doubt.

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