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DUTY OF JUDGE TO INTERPRETE THE LAW

Dictum

I agree that a judge should be firm and pungent in the interpretation of the law but such should be short of a judge being a legislator. This is because it is the duty of the legislature to make the law and it is the assigned duty of the judge to interpret the law as it is; not as it ought to be. That will be flouting the rule of division of labour as set out by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The provisions of sections 2(1) and 24 of the Act as reproduced above remain the law and shall continue to be so until when same is repealed or amended. For now, I see nothing amiss about the law.

— J.A. Fabiyi, JSC. FBN v. Maiwada (2012) – SC.269/2005

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DATE OF COMMENCEMENT: IF STATUTE IS TO HAVE AN EARLIER APPLICATION, IT IS TO BE STATED EXPLICITLY

The date of commencement of the Decree, as stated in the marginal note in it, was 20th June, 1991. The date of commencement of a statute is the date that it comes into operation. In the circumstance, the date on which the Decree itself, which included section 11 thereof, came into operation was the 20th June, 1991. There was nothing in the Decree to the effect that the Decree or any part or section thereof shall be deemed to have come into operation on a date earlier than the date of commencement stated in the Decree. Also, there was no provision in the Decree that actions or proceedings on matters to which the provision of section 11 of the Decree applied, which were pending in courts on the date of commencement of the decree, should abate or be discontinued. If it is intended by the lawmaker that any part or section of a statute should come into operation on a date earlier than the date of commencement of the statute itself provision to that effect will be made in clear term.

— Y.O. Adio. Kotoye v. Saraki (1994) – S.C. 147/1993

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GUIDING PRINCIPLES TO THE INTERPRETATION OF THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION

In FRN V NGANJIWA, which was cited by the Petitioners as SC/794/2019, but which is reported as FRN v NGANJIWA (2022) LPELR-58066(SC), the Supreme Court has succinctly reviewed decided cases on interpretation of the Constitution and outlined these guiding principles: (a) In interpreting the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, mere technical rules of interpretation of statutes should be avoided, so as not to defeat the principles of government enshrined therein. Hence a broader interpretation should be preferred, unless there is something in the text or in the rest of the Constitution to indicate that a narrower interpretation will best carry out the objects and purpose of the Constitution. (b) All Sections of the Constitution are to be construed together and not in isolation. (c) Where the words are clear and unambiguous, a literal interpretation will be applied, thus according the words their plain and grammatical meaning. (d) Where there is ambiguity in any Section, a holistic interpretation would be resorted to in order to arrive at the intention of its framers. (e) Since the draftsperson is not known to be extravagant with words or provisions, every section should be construed in such a manner as not to render other sections redundant or superfluous. (f) If the words are ambiguous, the law maker’s intention must be sought, first, in the Constitution itself, then in other legislation and contemporary circumstances and by resort to the mischief rule. ) The proper approach to the construction of the Constitution should be one of liberalism and it is improper to construe any of the provisions of the Constitution as to defeat the obvious ends which the Constitution was designed to achieve. See also on this: NAFIU RABIU v STATE (1980) 8 11 S.C. 130 at 148; A.G. BENDEL STATE v A.G. FEDERATION & ORS (1981) N.S.C.C. 314 at 372 – 373; BUHARI v OBASANJO (2005) 13 NWLR (Pt. 941) 1 at 281; SAVANNAH BANK LTD v AJILO (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt. 97) 305 at 326; and A.G., ABIA STATE v A.G. FEDERATION (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 275) 414 at 450, which were also referred to by the Apex.

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Peter Obi & Anor. v INEC & Ors. (2023) – CA/PEPC/03/2023

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A RETROSPECTIVE OPERATION IS NOT TO BE GIVEN TO A STATUTE UNLESS EXPRESSLY INTENDED

✓ In Re Athlumney (1898) 2 Q.B. 547, Wright J opined thus:-“Perhaps no rule of construction is more firmly established than this, that a retrospective operation is not to be given to a statute so as to impair an existing right or obligation, otherwise than as regards a matter of procedure, unless that effect cannot be avoided without doing violence to the language of the enactment; If the enactment is expressed in a language that is fairly capable of either interpretation, it ought to be construed as prospective only.”

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WHERE INTERPRETATION IS CAPABLE OF TWO MEANINGS, ADOPT A NON-DEFEATIST APPROACH

It is settled that where in the interpretation of a word appearing in a particular piece of legislation, such word is capable of two meanings, the court has a duty to adopt an interpretation which would not defeat the intention of the law makers. See Mandara v. Attorney-General, Federation (1984) NSCC 221; Yabugbe v. C.O.P. (1992) 4 SCNJ 116; Lawal v. G. B. Ollivant (1972) 3 SC 124.

— Galadima, JSC. Wike Nyesom v. Peterside, APC, INEC, PDP (SC. 718/2015, 27 Oct 2015)

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NOT FUNCTION OF COURT TO SUIT SOCIAL THINKING IN INTERPRETATION OF LEGISLATIONS

It is not the function of the court to apply the canon of interpretation to invalidate a valid and legal legislation for the only reason that such a legislation is not in line with its social thinking or is not liked by a fractional section of the Nigerian people.

— Wali JSC. Onuoha v State (1998) – SC. 24/1996

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EXPRESSIO UNIUS EST EXCLUSION ALTERIUS

A-G. of Bendel State v. Aideyan (1989) 4 NWLR 646. This is that the express mention of one thing in a statutory provision automatically excludes any other which otherwise would have applied by implication, with regard to the same issue.

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