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COURT JUDGEMENT IS VALID UNTIL APPEALED AGAINST

Dictum

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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JUDGEMENT CONFINED TO ISSUE RAISED

It is a well settled principle of judicial adjudication that the judgment in a lis must be confined to the cause of action and the issues raised on the pleadings See: Ochonma v. Asirim Unosi (1965) NMLR 321. The court cannot grant remedies or reliefs not claimed by the parties. – Karibe-Whyte JSC. Awoniyi v. AMORC (2000)

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JUDGEMENT IN REM VS JUDGEMENT IN PERSONAM

In Dike & Ors v. Nzeka II & Ors (1986) LPELR – 945 (SC), the Supreme Court held thusly – “It is therefore necessary to have a clear idea of the distinction between a judgment tin rem and a judgment in personam. A judgment is said to be in rem when it is an adjudication pronounced upon the Status of some particular thing or subject matter by a tribunal having the jurisdiction and the competence to pronounce on that Status. Such a judgment is usually and invariably founded on proceedings instituted against or on something or subject-matter whose status or condition is to be determined. It is thus a solemn declaration on the status of some persons or thing. It is therefore binding on all persons in so far as their interests in the status of the property or person are concerned. That is why a judgment in rem is a judgment contra mundum binding on the whole world – parties as well as nonparties. A judgment in personam, on the other hand, is on an entirely different footing. It is a judgment against a particular person as distinguished from a judgment declaring the status of a particular person or thing. A judgment in personam will be more accurately called a judgment inter partes. A judgment in personam usually creates a personal obligation as it determines the rights of parties inter se to, or in the subject-matter in dispute whether it be land or other corporeal property or liquidated or unliquidated demand, but does not affect the status of either the persons to the dispute or the thing in dispute.”

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A MERE VARIATION OF PANEL DOES NOT NULLIFY JUDGEMENT OF COURT

This is also settled, a mere variation in the composition of a Panel or tribunal or court, which does not affect the substance of the inquiry, cannot touch or affect, the judgment or decision, of such a body neither does such variation, render the judgment or decision, a nullity.

— Ogbuagu JSC. Ndukwe v LPDC [2007] – SC 48/2003

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A SEPARATE PANEL CANNOT TAKE JUDICIAL NOTICE OF NULLIFIED JUDGEMENT OF ANOTHER EARLIER PANEL

In argument, we were not referred to any decided case that appeared to have answered the basic problem in the above questions. I shall therefore attempt to answer them inferentially from some decided cases and from general principles. In the case of Craven V. Smith (1869) L.R. 4 Exch. 146 which was referred to in argument, it is clear from a careful reading of the report that what the court was held to be entitled to look at was the lawful record of the same panel of the court in the same case. It cannot, therefore, be regarded as supporting a case like this in which the question is whether a separate panel can take notice of the nullified judgment of an earlier panel. Even though the courts in England took judicial notice of the law of England as administered in the Court of Chancery (for which see e.g. Sims v. Marryatt 17 Q.B. 281), yet the practice of that court was earlier proved by oral evidence before it would be noticed. Hence in Dicas v. Brougham Ltd M. & Rob, 309, Lord Eldon had to be called as a witness to prove that practice. In Tucker V. Inman 4 M & Gr 1049 an equity counsel was called for the same purpose. In Place V. Potts 8 Exch. 705 at the invitation of counsel, the court made its own inquiry and informed itself as to the jurisdiction of the Court of Admiralty. See also Williams V. Lloyd 1 M & Gr. 671.

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

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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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WRITING OF JUDGEMENT IS A MATTER OF STYLE OF THE JUDGE

One major and central complaint of counsel is in respect of the way the learned trial Judge wrote his judgment vis-à-vis his evaluation of the totality of the evidence before him. While I agree that a judgment should have certain vital features and characteristics, I do not believe that a trial Judge must be regimented to a strictly laid down pattern beyond which he can only go on pain of punishment by way of setting his judgment aside on appeal. A trial Judge is not a child in a kindergarten class who must be led by the nose and the hands to write or recite a rhyme in unison or in union to the strictest details of the words and the letters and the punctuation marks. It should not be so. A trial Judge, the highly respected professional that he is should be given some freedom in the method of writing his own judgment. After all, writing of judgment is a matter of the personal style of the individual Judge. A Judge can develop his own “house” style and as long as that style is not outrageous, an appellate court cannot raise its eyebrows. Although it is neater to follow some generally set down pattern and methodology in the judgment writing process, an appellate court, in my humble view, is not competent to throw out a judgment of a trial Judge merely because it failed to follow the set down procedure. What an appellate court should be interested in, is whether from the entire judgment, justice has been done to the parties and in considering this package of justice, an appellate court should not be myopically interested in pockets of irregularities in the judgment but the totality of it all. I should perhaps go further to make the point that once the trial Judge has been able to bring out clearly the issues for determination, the case of the parties adequately summarised without any detestable embellishments, the argument of counsel and a careful and unbiased evaluation of the evidence, a judgment should not be subjected to an appellate attack to the extent that it must be thrown out.

— Tobi, JCA. Abraham v Olorunfunmi (1990) – CA/L/83/89

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