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PARTIES MUST ADDRESS ON ISSUE RAISED SUO MOTO

Dictum

It is wrong for an appellate court to raise an issue suo motu and determine the issue without giving the parties or their counsel the opportunity to argue the point.

– Adio, JSC. UBN v. Ozigi (1994)

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SUO MOTO; COURT SHOULD NOT SHUT OUT PARTIES

While the Court as master of the law and its Rules are bound to consider all issues based on facts and relevant law in reaching justice in a matter before it, it must not shut out the parties who initiated the process in the first place and owner of the cause or matter in making the decision which effect would impact on the parties.

– M. Peter-Odili JSC. Adegbanke v. Ojelabi (2021)

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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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CIRCUMSTANCES A COURT OF LAW WILL DECIDE AN ISSUE SUO MOTO

In addition, a court can take an issue and decide on it suo motu in the circumstances stated in the case of Blessing Toyin Omokuwajo V. Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) (2013) 9 NWLR (pt. 1359) 300 at 332 per the illuminating judgment prepared by Rhodes – Vivour, J.S.C., thus- “The need to give parties a hearing when a Judge raises an issue on his own motion or suo motu would not be necessary if: (a) the issue relates to the court’s own jurisdiction. (b) both parties are/were aware or ignored a statute which may have a bearing on the case. That is to say where by virtue of statutory provision the Judge is expected to take judicial notice. See Section 73 of the Evidence Act. (c) when on the face of the record serious questions of the fairness of the proceedings is evidence.”

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COURT CAN APPLY RELEVANT LAW SUO MOTO

In the case of Galadima v. Tambai the court while upholding the power of the court to take notice of and apply all relevant laws or enactments including subsidiary legislation, it added that the court can even do so without calling on both counsel to address it before doing so.

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

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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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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