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FAIR HEARING CONSTRUED IN RELATION TO FACT OF CASE

Dictum

Fair hearing is not expression of mere rhetoric or empty verbalism but a fundamental right of the individual guaranteed in the Constitution, the breach of which will nullify the proceedings in favour of the victim. The constitutional guarantee is construed in the light of the facts of the case and the facts alone. It cannot be construed outside the facts.

– Niki Tobi JSC. Gbadamosi v. Dairo (2007)

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AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM – WHERE OPPORTUNITY NOT USED

It is also the law that the fairness of a trial can be tested by the maxim audi alteram partem. Either party must be given an opportunity of being heard, but where a party refuses to take advantage of the opportunity to traverse specific allegations made against him, the averments will be deemed admitted and the defendant cannot complain of lack of fair hearing.

— O. Oyebiola, J. Yakubu v. FRCN (2016) – NIC/LA/673/2013

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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 IS TO BE JUDGED BY THE NATURE AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

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. In the instant case, there has been no complaint that the respondents were granted advantages or special favours in the presentation of their case which were denied to the appellants. A complaint founded on a denial of fair hearing is an invitation to the court hearing the appeal to consider whether or not the court against which a complaint is made has been generally fair on the basis of equality to all the parties before it.

— A. Oguntade, JSC. Pam & Anor. V Mohammed (2008) – SC.238/2007

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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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FAIR HEARING IS TRIAL ACCORDING TO ALL LEGAL RULES

The law is indeed well settled that fair hearing within the meaning of Section 36(1) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), means a trial or hearing conducted according to all legal rules formulated to ensure that justice is done to the parties. It requires the observation or observance of the twin pillars of the rules of natural justice, namely audi alterem partem and nemo judex in causa sua. These rules, the obligation to hear the other side of a dispute or the right of a party in dispute to be heard, is so basic and fundamental a principle of our adjudicatory system in the determination of disputes that it cannot be compromised on any ground. See Per PETER-ODILI, JSC in EYE v. FRN (2018) LPELR-43599(SC) (P. 28-30, PARA. A).

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

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THE VERY ESSENCE OF FAIR HEARING UNDER SECTION 36 OF THE CONSTITUTION

The court below at pages 289 to 291 of the record in its judgment examined the appellants’ complaint as to absence of fair hearing and said: “It must be noted that the court must balance its discretionary power to grant or refuse an adjournment with its duty to endeavour to give an appellant the opportunity of obtaining substantial justice in the sense of his appeal being granted a fair hearing or even in the court below. This is because of the need that in granting the hearing on the merits no injustice is done to the other party where that opportunity or fair hearing existed in the court below, the appellate court has no business interfering. See University of Lagos v. Aigoro (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1) page 142; Ogundoyin v. Adeyemi (2001) 13 NWLR (pt. 730) 403 at 421. The very essence of fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 is a hearing which is fair to both parties to the suit; be they plaintiffs or defendants or prosecution or defence. The section does not contemplate a standard of justice which is biased in favour of one party and to the prejudice of the other. Rather, it imposes an ambidextrous standard of justice in which the court must be fair to both sides of the conflict. The hearing must be fair and in accordance with the twin pillars of justice, read as pillars of justice, namely audi alteran partem and nemo judex in causa sua per Onu J.S.C. at 421. See also Ndu v. State (1990) 7 NWLR (pt. 164) 550. A party who will be affected by result of a Judicial inquiry must be given an opportunity of being heard, Otherwise, the action taken following the inquiry will be Unconstitutional and illegal. See Ogundijun v. Adeyemi (2001) 13 NWLR (Pt. 730) 403 at 423 per Onu J.S.C. See also Atande v. State (1988) 3 NWLR (pt. 85) 681. In the light of the above I have no difficulty in Resolving this issue of fair hearing or not against the Appellant. Therefore this appeal lacking in merit is hereby dismissed.” I agree with the views expressed by the court below above. I am unable to hold that the appellants were denied their right to fair hearing as enshrined in section 36 of the 1999 Constitution.

— A. Oguntade, JSC. Pam & Anor. V Mohammed (2008) – SC.238/2007

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