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COURT SHOULD NOT RAISE AND DECIDE ISSUES SUO MOTO

Dictum

In regard to the second issue, that is, as to the court’s action in formulating its own issues suo motu and without calling upon learned counsel to address him, this court has always frowned upon a Court of Appeal arrogating to itself determination of issues that were not placed before it. The Court of Appeal has constitutional jurisdiction to take appeals from decisions in criminal or civil proceedings before the High Court and not proceedings which were not before the High Court. A Court of Appeal in its majesty awaits the decisions of the High Court and not manufacture decisions to be appealed against. To say the least it is not even dignifying.

— Eso, JSC. Saude v. Abdullahi (1989) – SC.197/1987

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EXCEPTIONS TO AN ISSUE RAISED SUO MOTO

In Gbagbarigha vs Toruemi (2013) 6 NWLR (Pt.1350) 289 at 310, paragraphs C-G as follows: “When a Judge raises an issue on his own motion, or raises an issue not in contemplation of the parties; or an issue not before the Court, the Court is said to have raised the issue suo motu. The well laid down position of the law is that when an issue is raised suo motu the parties should be heard before a decision is reached on the issue… but there is an exception to this procedure. There would be no need to call on counsel to address the Court on an issue raised suo motu by the judge:
1. When the issue relates to the Court’s own jurisdiction;
2. When both parties are not aware or ignored a statute which may have bearing on the case; or
3. When on the face of the record serious questions of the fairness of the proceedings is evident.”

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A JUDGE CANNOT RAISE AN ISSUE OF FACT SUO MOTO

It is accepted that in our adversary system of the administration of Justice, where the Judge is at all times expected to play the role of an unbiased umpire, he cannot raise any issues of facts suo motu, and proceed to decide the matter on such issues without hearing the parties – See Kuti v. Balogun (1978) 1 LRN. 353, Atanda and Anor. v. Lakanrni (1974) 1 All NLR, (Pt.l) 168, Odiase and dnor v. Agho and Ors. (1972) 1 All NLR. (Pt.1) 170. The judgment must be confined to the issues of facts raised by the parties, – See Ochonrna v. Unosi (1965) NMLR 321. I am not aware of the extension of this principle to the application of the law relevant to the determination of the issue before the Court. In my opinion as long as the issues on which the judgment is based are findings of facts arising from the pleadings and evidence before the Court, the fact that the court has in the determination of the issues applied principles of law not cited by learned counsel, will not affect the decision. This has always been the accepted law.

– Karibe-Whyte, JSC. Finnih v. Imade (1992)

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TRIAL COURT CAN SUO MOTO JOIN PARTY IN THE SUIT

But when the suit has been filed the trial judge becomes dominus litis and then assumes, under Order IV Rule 5(1) of the High Court Rules, Cap 61 of the Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963 still operative in the Rivers State, the duty and responsibility to ensure that the proceedings accord with the justice of the case by joining either as plaintiff or defendants all the persons who may be entitled to, or who claim some share or interest in the subject-matter of the suit, or who may be likely to be affected by the results if these had not already been made parties. This joinder by the Court suo motu can be done at any state of the proceedings.

– Oputa, JSC. Green v. Green (1987)

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COURT CAN APPLY RELEVANT LAW SUO MOTO

In the case of Galadima v. Tambai the court while upholding the power of the court to take notice of and apply all relevant laws or enactments including subsidiary legislation, it added that the court can even do so without calling on both counsel to address it before doing so.

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EXCEPTIONS TO COUNSEL ADDRESSING ON SUO MOTO ISSUES

To raise an issue suo motu means that a Judge raised the issue which was not raised or which was not in contemplation of the parties. It is the law, that when raising an issue suo motu, the Judge should afford counsel or parties, an opportunity to address on it, before he can decide on it, especially the party that would be adversely affected by the issue. This is because, issue of fair hearing is thus involved – KUTI v. BALOGUN (1989) 1 NWLR (PT. 99) 566. However, there are exceptions to this law. Where (a) the issue relates to the jurisdiction of the Court, then it is not mandatory for the Judge to hear the parties on it; (b) when both parties ignored or were unaware of a statute which has a bearing on the case; (c) when the record ex facie, shows or discloses serious questions of the fairness of the proceedings.

– Yahaya, JCA. Petroleum Resources v. SPDC (2021)

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CAN A COURT RAISE AN ISSUE SUO MOTO?

Succinctly put, can a judge raise an issue suo motu, and determine same without calling on the parties to address him? AGU, JSC (as he then was) in OJE v. BABALOLA (1991) 4 NWLR (Pt.185) 267 at 280, paragraph E-G held that: “there are occasions where a court may feel that a point which has not been raised by one of the parties is necessary for consideration in order to reach a correct decision in a case. In the few cases where this situation does arise it is always necessary for the judge to bring it to the notice of the parties, or their counsel as the case maybe, so that they may address him on the point before he could base his decision on it. It is not competent for the judge to raise the point and decide it without hearing the parties. If he does so he will be in breach of the party’s right to fair hearing,… in this country this is a constitutional right and this court has always insisted that on no account should a court raise a point suo motu and no matter how clear it may appear to be, proceed to resolve it one way or the other without hearing the parties. See LAWRENCE OKAFOR v. OBIEKWE (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt.99) 556 AT 581. So the learned trial judge was in error to have raised the point, resolved it and proceeds to strike out the reply without hearing any of the parties.”

— S. Denton West, JCA. Ayorinde v Ayorinde (2010) – CA/IL/45/2008

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