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IT MUST BE SHOWN THAT SUO MOTO ISSUES RAISED AFFECTED THE RIGHT OF THE PARTY COMPLAINING

Dictum

Looking at the judgment, I observe that although the learned Justice has dealt with issues that never arose from the grounds argued, he adverted to the issues formulated by counsel. He set out the submissions of counsel after stating the facts in detail. The learned Justice, however, under the issues formulated by him, dealt with the issues formulated by the appellant and the respondent. The excursion to other issues raised Suo motu, though uncalled for, does not spell fatality to the judgment since the proper issues were covered. That disposes of the 2nd issue.

— Obaseki, JSC. Saude v. Abdullahi (1989) – SC.197/1987

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A JUDGE CANNOT RAISE AN ISSUE OF FACT SUO MOTO

It is accepted that in our adversary system of the administration of Justice, where the Judge is at all times expected to play the role of an unbiased umpire, he cannot raise any issues of facts suo motu, and proceed to decide the matter on such issues without hearing the parties – See Kuti v. Balogun (1978) 1 LRN. 353, Atanda and Anor. v. Lakanrni (1974) 1 All NLR, (Pt.l) 168, Odiase and dnor v. Agho and Ors. (1972) 1 All NLR. (Pt.1) 170. The judgment must be confined to the issues of facts raised by the parties, – See Ochonrna v. Unosi (1965) NMLR 321. I am not aware of the extension of this principle to the application of the law relevant to the determination of the issue before the Court. In my opinion as long as the issues on which the judgment is based are findings of facts arising from the pleadings and evidence before the Court, the fact that the court has in the determination of the issues applied principles of law not cited by learned counsel, will not affect the decision. This has always been the accepted law.

– Karibe-Whyte, JSC. Finnih v. Imade (1992)

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RATIONALE BEHIND NOT RULING ON ISSUE RAISED SUO MOTO

The law, as I understand it, is that when a court, for any compelling reason finds it necessary, and particularly in the interest of justice, to raise a point or issue suo motu, the parties must be given an opportunity to be heard on such a point or issue, particularly the party that would be prejudiced as a result of the point raised without the prompting of any of the litigants in the case, Adegoke v. Adibi (1992) 5 NWLR (pt.242) 410; Atanda v. Lakanmi (1974) 3 SC 109; Odiose v Agho (1972) 3 SC 71; Kraus T. Org. Ltd v UNICAL (2004) 25 WRN 1, 17. The rationale for this inflexible rule is that it is not competent for any court to make a case for either or both of the parties suo motu and then proceed to give judgment in the case so formulated contrary to the case of the parties before it, Adeniji v Adeniji (1972) 4 SC 10; Commissioner for Works, Benue State and Anor v Devcom Development Society Ltd (1988) 3 NWLR (pt 83) 407; NHDS Ltd Anor v. Mumuni (1977) 2 SC 57; (1977) NSCC65. The rule that has crystallised from this position is that when an issue is not placed before a court, such a court has no business whatsoever to deal with it. This is because decisions of a court of law must not be founded on any ground in respect of which it has neither received argument from or on behalf of the parties before it nor even raised by or for the parties or either of them, Shitta Bey v. FPSC (1981) 1 SC 40; Saude v. Abdullahi (1989) 4 NWLR (pt 116) 387; Kraus T. Org. Ltd v. UNICAL (supra) 16-17. This rule is so fundamental that its abuse has been characterised as a flagrant breach of the aggrieved party’s right to fair hearing as entrenched in the Constitution, Oje v Babalola (1991) 4 NWLR (pt 185) 267; Ugo v Obiekwe (1989) 1 NWLR (pt 99) 566: a breach that amounts to a miscarriage of justice, Owoso v Sunmonu (2004) 30 WRN 93, 106-107. That is, failure of justice, Ojo v Anibire (2004) 5 KLR (pt 177) 1205, 1207 or justice which is not according to law, Wilson v Wilson (1969) ALR 191 approvingly adopted in Ojo v Anibire (supra) 1214. Such a flagrant breach must, therefore, not be allowed to desecrate the precincts of the hallowed temple of justice. As such, the proceedings resulting from such an exercise, no matter how brilliantly conducted, must be vacated as a travesty of justice, Owoso v Sunmonu (supra).

— C.C. Nweze, JCA. Ayorinde v Ayorinde (2010) – CA/IL/45/2008

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COURT SHOULD NOT RAISE AND DECIDE ISSUES SUO MOTO

In regard to the second issue, that is, as to the court’s action in formulating its own issues suo motu and without calling upon learned counsel to address him, this court has always frowned upon a Court of Appeal arrogating to itself determination of issues that were not placed before it. The Court of Appeal has constitutional jurisdiction to take appeals from decisions in criminal or civil proceedings before the High Court and not proceedings which were not before the High Court. A Court of Appeal in its majesty awaits the decisions of the High Court and not manufacture decisions to be appealed against. To say the least it is not even dignifying.

— Eso, JSC. Saude v. Abdullahi (1989) – SC.197/1987

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A TRIAL JUDGE MAY EXPUNGE DOCUMENT SUO MOTO

The law is elementary that a trial Judge has the right to expunge from the record a document which he wrongly or wrongfully admitted. He can do so suo motu at the point of writing judgment. He needs no prompting from any of the parties, although a party is free to call his attention to the document at the stage of address. Where a trial Judge is wrong in expunging a document, the appellate process will correct it and so an argument that the Judge ought to have expunged the document suo motu at the stage of writing judgment, will not avail the party wronged. After all, it is better for a Judge to expunge suo motu a document which is clearly inadmissible under the Evidence Act than allow it to be on the record to give headache to the appellate court. As the appellate court has the competence to expunge it from the record, why not the trial Judge?

– Niki Tobi, JSC. Brossette v. Ilemobola (2007)

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TRIAL COURT CAN SUO MOTO JOIN PARTY IN THE SUIT

But when the suit has been filed the trial judge becomes dominus litis and then assumes, under Order IV Rule 5(1) of the High Court Rules, Cap 61 of the Laws of Eastern Nigeria 1963 still operative in the Rivers State, the duty and responsibility to ensure that the proceedings accord with the justice of the case by joining either as plaintiff or defendants all the persons who may be entitled to, or who claim some share or interest in the subject-matter of the suit, or who may be likely to be affected by the results if these had not already been made parties. This joinder by the Court suo motu can be done at any state of the proceedings.

– Oputa, JSC. Green v. Green (1987)

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CAN A COURT RAISE AN ISSUE SUO MOTO?

Succinctly put, can a judge raise an issue suo motu, and determine same without calling on the parties to address him? AGU, JSC (as he then was) in OJE v. BABALOLA (1991) 4 NWLR (Pt.185) 267 at 280, paragraph E-G held that: “there are occasions where a court may feel that a point which has not been raised by one of the parties is necessary for consideration in order to reach a correct decision in a case. In the few cases where this situation does arise it is always necessary for the judge to bring it to the notice of the parties, or their counsel as the case maybe, so that they may address him on the point before he could base his decision on it. It is not competent for the judge to raise the point and decide it without hearing the parties. If he does so he will be in breach of the party’s right to fair hearing,… in this country this is a constitutional right and this court has always insisted that on no account should a court raise a point suo motu and no matter how clear it may appear to be, proceed to resolve it one way or the other without hearing the parties. See LAWRENCE OKAFOR v. OBIEKWE (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt.99) 556 AT 581. So the learned trial judge was in error to have raised the point, resolved it and proceeds to strike out the reply without hearing any of the parties.”

— S. Denton West, JCA. Ayorinde v Ayorinde (2010) – CA/IL/45/2008

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