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JUSTICE MUST DELIVER OPINION IN WRITING; APPLIES TO ANY PANEL WITH MORE THAN ONE PANEL

Dictum

It is evident from this constitutional provision that the intention of the framers of the Constitution is that where a panel of justices hears a cause or matter, each of them must express and deliver his opinion in writing. Such written opinion may however be delivered by any other justice of the court on behalf of a justice who participated in the hearing but is unavoidably absent. The opinion delivered must be the opinion of the justices who participated in the hearing. Even though the provisions of section 294 (1) and (2) refers specifically to; Justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, it is my view that the principle is applicable to any court or tribunal that sits in a panel of two or more members.

— Kekere-Ekun, JSC. Nyesom v. Peterside (SC.1002/2015 (REASONS), 12 Feb 2016)

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EVERY JUDGEMENT TAKES EFFECT ON PRONOUNCEMENT

In the case of INTERCONTRACTORS NIGERIA LTD v. U.A.C. OF NIGERIA LTD (supra) or (1988) (Pt. 1) Vol. 9 NSCC 737 at 752. This court per KARIBI WHYTE JSC stated:- “It is well settled that every judgment takes effect on pronouncement – see BANK OF WEST AFRICA LTD v. N.I.P.C LTD [1962] LLR 31; OLAYINKA v. ELUSANMI [1971] 1 NMLR 277. A judgment debtor seeking to stay the execution must show that he is challenging the judgment, or is asking for time to comply with the terms of the judgment.”

— D. Musdapher JSC. M.O. Olatunji v. Owena Bank (PLC) & Anor. (SC.349/2002, 25 April 2008)

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COURT OF APPEAL IS BOUND BY HER PREVIOUS JUDGEMENT

This is a hypothetical and an academic question but my answer to the question is in the affirmative, i.e., that the Court of Appeal is bound by its previous judgments. It is also bound by the judgments of the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal has not contended the contrary. Since the Court of Appeal sits in divisions, now there exists the danger of decisions delivered in one division conflicting with decisions in another division.

— Obaseki, JSC. Foreign Finance Corp. v Lagos State Devt. & Pty. Corp. & Ors. (1991) – SC. 9/1988

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ONLY WHEN ERROR IN JUDGEMENT OF COURT BELOW IS SUBSTANTIAL THAT APPEAL WILL BE ALLOWED

At all events, it is not every mistake or error in a judgment that will result in the appeal being allowed. It is only when the error is substantial in that it has occasioned a miscarriage of Justice that the appellate court is bound to interfere. See Onajobi v. Olanipekun (1985) 4 S.C. (Pt.2) 156 at 163; Oje v. Babalola (1991) 4 NWLR (Pt.185) 267 at 282; Ukejianya v. Uchendu (1950) 13WACA 45 at 46; Azuetonma Ike v. Ugboaja (1993) 6 NWLR (Pt.30 1)539 at 556; Ahiodun Famuroti v. Madam Agbeke (1991) 5 NWLR (Pt.189) 1; (1991) 6 S.CN.J. 54 at 64 etc. No miscarriage 1 of justice has been occasioned by the observation of the court below that the return of the title deeds to the 1st appellant during the pendency of the appeal had put an end to the dispute.

— Iguh, JSC. Onamade v ACB (1997) – SC.199/1990

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RATIONALE BEHIND JUDGEMENTS BEING DELIVERED WITHIN THE CONSTITUTIONAL THREE MONTHS

There is no doubt, that if a Court of Appeal fails to deliver its judgment within three months, such failure contravenes this provision. Therefore, any judgment becomes null and void if delivered outside the time limit. The question is, who should be blamed since the appellants or the respondents as the case may be, are not responsible for the lateness of the Court of Appeal in delivering its judgment. Where, therefore, should the blame lie, in what appears to be the wrong doing of a panel of judges There is no provision in the law as to who will bear the responsibility for the cost of re-hearing. It therefore appears, that parties to a suit are being punished for the wrong doing which they are not responsible for. It is in this sense that counsel argued forcibly that the construction of the relevant section should not be mandatory but directory. If one accepts the argument that the provision of section 258(1) of the 1979 Constitution is directory, then the question is as to what happens to the judgment delivered in breach of it. Definitely, the judgment violates the provision of the Constitution, because it was delivered out of time. The judgment, therefore, is null and void. The next question is as to what happens to the parties and the judges Except that the judgment becomes null and void, the judges do not suffer any liability. It is quite clear that there is no provision for damnifying judges for such a breach. This section of the Constitution has been specially promulgated to prevent rather undue delayed judgment, which, being capable of being set aside, does not benefit either party to the case or on appeal. When any judgment is unnecessarily delayed, it is not possible for the court of trial to retain observations of the witnesses, and the freshness of the demeanour of a witness is lost. It is, therefore, to save such undue delay that this particular provision has been made. Often in the past, a judgment is set aside and the case is remitted for retrial or re-hearing, because the delay is so long that a trial judge would have lost advantage of observation of a witness and sometimes forgets the sequence. It is the duty of all judges to apply the laws strictly, but it will not be right of them to attempt to wriggle out of such application and defeat its object. It is, therefore, essential that all courts should see to the proper compliance with section 258 (1) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1979. Learned counsel for the appellant emphasised that directory construction should be preferred, because of the helplessness of parties. In a judgment given in violation of section 258(1), one party gains and the other loses. It is only fair that parties be restored to their original status when ordering re-hearing. The purpose of section 258(1) is to give some certainty as to the law determining rights of parties. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to either the appellant or the respondent that a court, which determines an appeal, does so within the required period. That will lead to the enhancement of the court and the judiciary.

— Sowemimo, JSC. Odi v Osafile (1985) – SC.144/1983

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PERIOD WITHIN WHICH EVERY COURT MUST DELIVER ITS JUDGEMENT

Also, in Dalyop vs. Oradiegwu (2000) 8 NWLR Part 669 page 421, this Court, per Akpabio, J.C.A, said: “Section 258(1) of the 1979 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) which appellant said gave him “a constitutional right to address the court before judgment is delivered” did not give him any such right. Rather it restricted the period within which every court must deliver its judgment to a period of “not later than 3 months after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses.”

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OUT OF NOTHING, NOTHING CAN ARISE; NOTHING CAN COME FORTH OF A JUDGEMENT THAT IS A NULLITY

The aforesaid attempt by respondents’ counsel to influence this court, consisting of a different panel of Justices, by the previous but nullified conclusions-even though described as opinions-of its predecessors in respect of the same appeal is, in my view, a novel and an improper one. As rightly submitted by learned Counsel for the appellants a judgment set aside as a nullity ceases to have any effect whatsoever, for it is non-existent and as if it had never been given. I therefore agree with the conclusion of appellants’ counsel that such judgment “cannot constitute an opinion of the court that gave it, for out of nothing, nothing can arise.” Reference was specially made to the cases of Akpene v. Barclays Bank (1977)1 S.C. 47 at 59 where the Supreme Court adopted the view of Lord Denning in Macfoy v. United African Company Ltd. (1961) 3 W.L.R. (P.C.) 1405 at 1409, to the effect that: “You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stay there. It will collapse.”

— P. Nnaemeka-Agu JSC. Gbaniyi Osafile v. Paul Odi (SC 149/1987, 4th day of May 1990)

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