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NATURE OF FAIR HEARING

Dictum

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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ONE CANNOT BE A WITNESS AND A JUDGE AT THE SAME TIME

This submission is incontestible. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor cannot be a witness and a judge all at the same time. The likelihood of bias is a necessary inference from the assumption of the two positions. – Andrews Otutu Obaseki, JSC. Garba & Ors. v. The University Of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt.18) 550

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WHEN FAIR HEARING IS BREACHED, PROCEEDING BECOMES A NULLITY

So, is a complaint alleging the breach of the right to fair hearing as constitutionally guaranteed one of mere technicality? I think not. If not then is it one of substantial justice? I very much think so! The fulcrum of this issue therefore, is the vexed issue of when in law can a proceedings of a Court and the resultant decision be said to be in breach of the right to fair hearing as constitutionally guaranteed to the parties before the Courts in the determination of their civil rights and obligations? This is so because, the effect of a breach of the right to fair hearing, if made out, would almost invariably render such proceedings and resultant decision a nullity. See Ekpenetu V. Ofegobi (2012) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1323) 276; Amadi V. INEC (2013) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1345) 595; Ovunwo & Anor. V. Woko & Ors (2011) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1277) 522; Pan African Incorporation & Ors. V. Shoreline Lifeboat Ltd & Anor. (2010) All FWLR (Pt. 524)56; Action Congress of Nigeria v. Sule Lamido & ors (2012) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1303) 560 @ p. 593; Judicial Service Commission of Cross River State & Anor. V. Dr(Mr) Asari Young (2013) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1364) 1.

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

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IMPROPERLY CONSTITUTED PANEL AFFECTS FAIR HEARING

The composition of the Disciplinary Committee is intrinsic to the fulfilment of the requirements of Section 36 of the Constitution that guarantees fair hearing to the accused. Where the panel is constituted in such a way that it affects a person’s right to fair hearing, whatever decision is reached by such a panel will result in a nullity.

– Abdu Aboki JSC. Gbenoba v. LPDC (2021)

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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 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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NATURAL JUSTICE ENTAILS BEING ALLOWED TO REBUT ALLEGATIONS ALLEGED

However, the requirement that a person should be offered opportunity to defend himself after being charged need not necessarily be in the form of a trial involving oral testimonies i.e. examination-in-chief and cross examination. What is required is to afford him the opportunity to rebut, correct or contradict what is alleged against him. The principle of natural justice is satisfied if the person accused is allowed to correct or rebut what is prejudicial to him in writing.

– Muhammad JCA. Osumah v. EBS (2004)

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