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FAIR HEARING APPLIES FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE END OF THE TRIAL

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From its tenor, therefore, the Court is required to conduct the trial or hearing of a case with all fairness to both parties to the suit and without bias or partiality in favour of, or against either party. That is the rationale for the prescription that a complaint of breach of fair hearing is usually against the Court or Tribunal, whether the parties before the Court were afforded equal opportunity to fully ventilate their grievance. Okanlawon v. State (2015) LPELR-24838 (SC) 52-53; E-B; Peters Pam and Anor v. Mohammed and Anor (2008) 5-6 SC (Pt. 1) 83; Deduwa v. Okorodudu (1976) NMLR 236, 246; 9-10 SC 329. Such is its primacy in our administration of justice that no decision can be regarded as valid unless the trial Judge or Court has heard both sides in the conflict. State v. Onagoruwa (1992) LPELR -3228 (SC) 33; D-E; Deduwa v. Okorodudu (supra). This test of fair hearing applies once a trial has commenced, after issue has been joined, State v. Onagoruwa (supra); nay more, it applies from the beginning to the end of the trial. Oyewole v. Akande and Anor (2009) LPELR-2879 (SC) 36-37; Deduwa v. Okorodudu (1976) 9 -10 SC 329; News Watch Comm. Ltd. v. Attah (2006) 12 NWLR (Pt. 993) 144; A. G Rivers State v. Ude (2006) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1008) 436.

— C.C. Nweze JSC. Onuwa Kalu v. The State (SC.474/2011, 13 Apr 2017)

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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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NATURE OF FAIR HEARING

Pam v. Mohammed (2008) LPELR-2895(SC), 26-27, per Oguntade, J.S.C., held as follows – “The question of fair hearing is not just an issue of dogma. Whether or not a party has been denied of his right to fair hearing is to be Judged by the nature and circumstances surrounding a particular case; the crucial determinant is the necessity to afford the parties equal opportunity to put their case to the Court before the Court gives its judgment … It is wrong and improper to approach the meaning of fair hearing by placing reliance on any a priori assumptions as to its technical requirements. The simple approach is to look at the totality of the proceedings before the Court and then form an opinion on objective standards whether or not an equal opportunity has been afforded to parties to fully ventilate their grievances before a Court. The principle of fair hearing cannot be applied as if it were a technical rule based on prescribed prerequisites. It seems a sufficient satisfaction of the principle if parties were afforded an equal opportunity without any inhibition to put across their case.”

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EXPEDITIOUS HEARING MUST BE IN ACCORDANCE WITH FAIR HEARING

I am an adherent and a indeed devoted fan of expeditious hearing and determination of pending cases by the Courts but still it has to be in consonance with laid down rules of procedures and principles, particularly the observance of the inalienable right of the parties to be fairly heard in line with their constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing. In my view no Court no matter how zealous a Court is for the expeditious hearing and determination of matters before it can empower it to take away or infringe on the right to fair hearing of the parties and expect the Court to come out untouched by the tinge of invalidity and or nullity of both its proceedings, no matter how well conducted, and its decision, no matter how sound.

— B.A. Georgewill, JCA. UBA v. Ashimina (2018) – CA/L/1033/2014

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FAIR HEARING MUST BE OBSERVED – FAIR HEARING IS A MATTER OF FACT

My lords, in considering these issues, I bear in mind that they deal frontally with the fundamental issue of the observance of the right to fair hearing in the determination of the civil rights and obligations of the citizen, including corporate legal entity, by Courts and tribunals and even quasi judicial bodies to ensure that decisions are not reached without a due hearing of the parties. However, an allegation of denial of the right to fair hearing, as grave as it could be and the dire consequences it could have on the proceedings and decision of a Court if proved, does not operate in a vacuum but is dependent on the facts and circumstances of each given case. In other words, whether the right to fair hearing was breached or not is a question of facts to be determined squarely on the facts and circumstances placed before the appellate Court since the law is that each case of allegation of breach of the right to fair hearing must be decided on the peculiar facts and circumstances of each case. This is so because fair hearing is primarily a matter of fact. It is only when the facts are ascertained that the law would be applied to the facts so established to see whether or not such established facts constitute a breach of the party’s right to fair hearing. See Newswatch Communications Limited V. Alhaji Ibrahim Atta (2006) 12 NWLR (Pt. 993) 144.

— B.A. Georgewill, JCA. UBA v. Ashimina (2018) – CA/L/1033/2014

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FAILURE TO OBSERVE FEAR HEARING VITIATES THE ENTIRE PROCEEDINGS

The law is now well settled that failure of a Court, such as the Court below in the instant appeal, to observe the right to fair hearing of a party in any proceedings before it, vitiates both the proceedings and the resultant decision of the Court whose proceedings is afflicted by the deadly, incurable and highly contagious virus of denial of fair hearing and this is notwithstanding the merit or otherwise of the respective cases of the parties or indeed how meticulous the proceedings were or even how sound the resultant decision is, they are all a nullity. This, in my finding, is the sure but unfortunate fate of the proceedings and ruling of the Court below as it affects the petition filed by the Appellant against the Respondent in this appeal, which ruling was clearly reached in flagrant breach of the Appellant’s right to fair hearing. This is so because in law the principles of fair hearing are not only fundamental to adjudication but they are also constitutional requirements which cannot be legally wished away. It is indeed a fundamental right of universal application. See Agbapuonwu V. Agbapuonwu (1991) 1 NWLR (Pt. 165) 33 @ p. 40. See also Agbogu V. Adiche (Supra) @p. 531; J.O.E. Co. Ltd V. Skye Bank Plc (2009) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1138) @p.518; Robert C. Okafor & Ors V. AG and Commissioner for Justice Anambra State (1991) 6 NWLR (PT.200) 659.

— B.A. Georgewill, JCA. UBA v. Ashimina (2018) – CA/L/1033/2014

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FAIR HEARING INCLUDES SUFFICIENT TIME GIVEN TO PRESENT DEFENCE

Here is a case where the panel has three months within which to conduct and conclude its investigation of impeachable allegations against appellant but appellant requested for a four days adjournment on health grounds and to enable two of his witnesses attend and testify on his behalf but the panel refused the request, closed the case of appellant and prepared its report which was submitted to the Taraba House of Assembly the next day. The said House proceeded on the same day of receipt of the report to remove appellant from office. In all, the proceedings lasted a period of about six days out of the three months assigned. Why all the rush one may ask. The rush in this case has obviously resulted in a breach of the right to fair hearing of appellant which in turn nullifies the proceedings of the panel. Appellant was, in the circumstances of the case not given sufficient time or opportunity to present his defence to the charges leveled against him.

– Onnoghen, J.S.C. Danladi v. Dangiri (2014)

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