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

Dictum

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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DENIAL OF FAIR HEARING RENDERS PROCEEDINGS NULL & VOID

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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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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FAIR HEARING LIES IN THE PROCEDURE USED NOT THE DECISION ITSELF

The apex court had stated the position of the law succinctly thus:- “Fair hearing lies in the procedure followed in the determination of the case and not in the correctness of the decision. It is synonymous with trial and implies that every reasonable and fair-minded observer who watches the proceedings should be able to come to the conclusion that the court has been fair to all the parties”. (Italics mine, for emphasis) Magna Maritime Services Ltd v. Oteju (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 270) 1995, (2005) LRCN Vol. 128 1497 at page 152; per Edozie JSC Kotoye v. C.B.N. (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt. 98) 419 at 444; State v. Onagoruwa (1992) 7 LRCN 194.

— Danjuma, JCA. Tony Anthony Nig. Ltd & Ors. v. NDIC (CA/L/630/2009 • 25 January 2011)

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THE RIGHT TO BE HEARD CONNOTES AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE REPRESENTATION

Para. 53: “The Court recognizes the principles of Audi alteram partem (hear the other side) which requires that persons affected by an adverse position must be given an opportunity to make representation. The right to be heard by its own nature connotes an opportunity to be heard within a reasonable time by an impartial court or Tribunal. This right is not limited to a one on one verbal representation but encompasses every avenue accorded to a party to be heard in a matter. This Court 18 reiterated the principle that parties must be given an opportunity to be heard in any matter affecting their interest in the following words: “the right to fair hearing is a human right derived from the concept of fair hearing, in this regard, a fair trial is not only seen as an additional instrument for protection of the rights of defence largo sensu…..” See MOHAMMED TAYYIB BAH V. REP OF SIERRA LEONE JUD NO: ECW/CCJ/JUD/11/15, (Unreported) in its consideration relied on the case of Ugokwe v. Okeke (2008), CCJELR pg. 149@ 146.”

— Uuter Dery v Republic of Ghana (2019) – ECW/CCJ/JUD/17/19

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ONE MUST BE GIVEN THE CHANCE TO EXCULPATE HIMSELF

It is my considered view that after the Disciplinary Investigation Panel had completed its investigation, each of such students against who disciplinary action was contemplated must be informed of the available evidence against him and in addition given reasonable opportunity of exculpating himself. It is essential that in the exercise, the Vice Chancellor must observe the principles of impartiality and fairness. – Coker, J.S.C. Garba & Ors. v. The University Of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt.18) 550

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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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