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DENIAL OF FAIR HEARING RENDERS PROCEEDINGS NULL & VOID

Dictum

There is a plethora of authorities of this Court on the effect of a breach of the right to fair hearing. It is fundamental. It is a breach of one of the twin pillars of natural justice, “audi alteram partem,” meaning, “let the other side be heard”, the other being “nemo judex in causa sua” meaning “a person should not be a judge in his own cause.” A denial of fair hearing renders the affected proceedings and any order, ruling or judgment therein, null and void. See: Adigun Vs A.G. Oyo State (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 53) 678; Salu Vs Egeibon (1994) 6 NWLR (Pt. 348) 23 @ 44; Bamgboye Vs Unilorin (1999) 10 NWLR (Pt. 622) 290 @ 333; NUT, Taraba State & Ors Vs Habu & Ors (2018) LPELR – 44057 (SC) @ 13 – 14 D – A; Zenith Plastics Industries Ltd. Vs Samotech Ltd. (2018) LPELR 44056(SC) @ 13 – 14 D – F.

— K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun JSC. Umeano v. Anaekwe (SC.323/2008, Friday January 28 2022)

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SHOULD NOT RECEIVE EVIDENCE FROM ONE SIDE BEHIND THE BACK OF ANOTHER

Lord Denning in KANDA V GOVERNMENT OF MALAYA [1962] AC 322, stated thus: “If the right to be heard is to be real right which is worth anything, it must carry with it a right of the accused man to know the case which is made against him. He must know what evidence has been given and what statement had been made affecting him, and then must be given an opportunity to correct or contradict them. This appears in all the cases from the celebrated judgments of Lord Loreburn, L.G in The Board of Education v Rice down to the decision of their Lordships’ Board in Ceylon University v Fernando. It follows therefore that the judge or whoever has to adjudicate must not hear evidence or receive representation from one side behind the back of the other. The Court will not inquire whether the evidence did work his prejudice. The risk of it is enough. No one who has lost a case will believe he has been fairly treated if the other side has had access to the judge without his knowing.”

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IN HIGHER INSTITUTION, IF PUNISHMENT TO BE IMPOSED IS SEVERE, THERE MUST BE NATURAL JUSTICE

It seems fairly settled now that the exercise of disciplinary powers may import a power to act judicially in accordance with natural justice. In higher educational institutions, if the penalty imposed or liable to be imposed is severe, the disciplinary proceedings have to be in accordance with the principles of natural justice. – Nnamani, JSC. Garba & Ors. v. The University Of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt.18) 550

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NATURE OF FAIR HEARING

It is my humble view that fair hearing implies much more than hearing the Appellants testifying before the Disciplinary Investigation panel; it implies much more than other Staff or Students testifying before the Panel behind the backs of the Appellants, it implies much more than the Appellants being “given a chance to explain their own side of the story.” To constitute a fair hearing whether it be before the regular Courts or before Tribunals and Boards of Inquiry, the person accused would know what is alleged against him; he should be present when any evidence against him is tendered; and he should be given a fair opportunity to correct or contradict such evidence. How else is this done, it be not by cross-examination? If these Tribunal or Boards, or Panels know that they cannot do all these, then, they should leave these trials to the law courts.

– Oputa, J.S.C. Garba & Ors. v. The University Of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt.18) 550

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FAIR HEARING INCLUDES A PARTY’S RIGHT TO CROSS-EXAMINE

There is no doubt that the well-settled position is that in order to be fair, “hearing” or “opportunity to be heard” must, inter alia, encompass a party’s right to cross-examine or otherwise confront or contradict all the witnesses who testified against him.

– Ogunwumiju JSC. Junaidu v. State (2021)

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MEANING OF “REASONABLE TIME” IN SECTION 36 OF CONSTITUTION

The operative words for our purpose in this appeal are “reasonable time”, words which in their docile content are vague, and nebulous. A reasonable time is a time justified by reason. Reasonable time in its nebulous content cannot be determined in vacuo but in relation to the fact of each case. This is because what constitutes a reasonable time in one case may riot necessarily constitute a reasonable time in another case. Reasonable time in section 36 presupposes the granting of an adjournment in cases. In dealing with the reasonable time concept in section 36, the court will take into consideration the nature of the case in terms of the magnitude, intricacies, versatilities, complexities and volume of the work involved. In this respect, the court will consider the assemblage of witnesses and documents, if any and the likely or possible time to get all these. Above all, the court will take into consideration the procurement .of exculpatory or inculpatory evidence as the case may be. A reasonable time is also a moderately and practically possible time within which a court or tribunal could complete a trial and pronounce its decision. See Effiom v. State (1995) 1 NWLR (Pt. 373) 507. Reasonable time means the period of time which, in the search for justice, does not wear out the parties and their witnesses and which is required to ensure that justice is not only done but appears to reasonable person to be done. See Ariori v. Elemo (1983) 1 SCNLR 1; Chief Atejioye v. Ayeni (1998) 6 NWLR (Pt. 552) 132.

— Niki Tobi JSC. Pam & Anor. V Mohammed (2008) – SC.238/2007

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FAIR HEARING NOT BREACHED WHEN A DOCUMENT IS EXPUNGED BY TRIAL JUDGE

I have seen in recent times counsel forcing into cases the principles of fair hearing even when they are so distant from the case. The principles of fair hearing will not be invoked in favour of a party where the trial Judge correctly expunges an exhibit earlier admitted. It is only when the document is wrongly or wrongfully expunged from the record that a party can be heard to canvass to an appellate court that he was denied fair hearing. – Niki Tobi, JSC. Brossette v. Ilemobola (2007)

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