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CRIMINAL TRIAL IS FROM ARRAIGNMENT TO CONVICTION; THE FINAL ADDRESS IS PART OF THE TRIAL

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I make haste to state here that the criminal trial of every accused person begins with arraignment and culminates with conviction and sentence in judgment. In the precedent relied upon by the Respondent’s learned Counsel, STATE v. LAWAL (2013) 7 NWLR (FT. 1354) AT PP.586, Mohammad, JSC, defined criminal trial to mean “the whole of the proceedings including the judgment and sentence” This therefore has been the constitutionally inalienable right enjoyed by every accused person. It is the Respondent’s constitutional right to be heard through his written/oral address or Counsel’s address on his behalf. Section 294(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) contemplated written address or Counsel’s address to be part of the criminal trial or proceedings, when it provides that: Section 294 (1) Every Court established under this Constitution shall deliver its decision in writing not later than ninety days after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses and furnish all parties to the cause or matter determined with duly authenticated copies of the decision within seven days of the delivery thereof. Per NNAEMEKA-AGU, JSC in NDU v. STATE (1990) LPELR-1975(SC) (P. 45, PARAS. A-C) relying on Obodo v. Olomu and Anor (1987) 3 N.W.L.R. (Pt.59) 111, at p. 123-124, re-iterated this point thus: …this Court has stated before, the addresses of Counsel are an essential part of the trial. That can be the only possible inference from the fact that the constitution itself used the conclusion of addresses as a very important determinant of the time limit for delivery of judgments under Section 258 of the Constitution of 1979. See also STATE v. LAWAL (2013) 7 NWLR (PT. 1354) AT PP.585, wherein this Honourable Court held that “addresses by parties or their Counsel are an integral part of the hearing or trial of an accused person.”

— U.M. Abba Aji, JSC. State v. Andrew Yanga (SC.712/2018, 15 Jan 2021)

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RULES OF COURT ARE MEANT TO BE OBEYED

In SOLANKE VS. SOMEFUN (1974) 1 SC 141, Sowemimo, JSC (as he then was) opined: “Rules of Court are meant to be complied with … Rules of Court are made to be followed. They regulate matters in Court and help parties to present their case for purpose of a fair and quick trial. It is the strict compliance with these rules of Court that makes for quicker administration of justice.”

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DISTINCTION BETWEEN SUBSTANTIVE & PROCEDURAL LAW

“24, Mr, Onuora rightly set out the distinction between substantive and procedural laws when he said that ‘as a general rule, laws which fix duties, establish rights and responsibilities among and for persons natural or otherwise are substantive laws in character while those which merely prescribe the manner in which such rights and responsibilities may be exercised and enforced in a Court are procedural law.’”

— Ukor v Laleye (2005) – ECW/CCJ/APP/01/04

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BREACH OF PROCEDURE IS MERE IRREGULARITY

Samuel Osigwe v. PSPLS Management Consortium Ltd & Ors. (2009) 3 NWLR 378 SC: “Breach of a rule of practice and procedure does not render the proceedings a nullity but merely an irregularity.”

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RULES OF COURT MUST BE OBEYED

OFORKIRE VS. MADUIKE ORS. (2003) LPELR – 2269 (SC) held that: “It is elementary law that rules of Court must be obeyed or complied with, as they are not made for fun.”

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ACQUIESCENCE TO IRREGULARITY

Sonuga and Ors v. Anadein (1967) NMLR 77 at 79, the Supreme Court per Lewis, J.S.C. said: “In the appeal before us, the question appears to be, is it right for the defendant to take advantage of an irregularity he had himself accepted and had acted on it, without any harm done to him? We think it is now too late for him to raise an objection.”

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WRONG PROCEDURE ROBS THE COURT OF JURISDICTION

In essence therefore, initiating an action on a wrong procedure robs the court of its jurisdiction to adjudicate over such matter. The issue of jurisdiction of a court to adjudicate over a matter before it is a threshold issue that goes to the root or foundation of adjudication. This stems from the trite position of the law, that once it is discovered that a court has no jurisdiction to adjudicate over a matter, any decision/proceedings emanating from such a court regarding that matter, no matter how well rendered or conducted, is a nullity.

– Bage JCA. Ayetobi v. Taiwo (2014)

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