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RATIONALE BEHIND JUDGEMENTS BEING DELIVERED WITHIN THE CONSTITUTIONAL THREE MONTHS

Dictum

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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JUDGMENT MUST BE CONFINED TO ISSUES RAISED

It is well settled that a judgment must be confined to the issues raised on the pleadings. Where it is otherwise the court will be making a case for the parties by formulating its own case from the evidence and then proceeding to give judgment. No gratuitous awards are to be made by the court.

– Karibe-Whyte, JSC. Oniah v. Onyia (1989)

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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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FINAL EXERCISE OF JUDGEMENT MUST INVOLVE CONSIDERATION OF ALL THE CORRESPONDENCE ON BOTH SIDES

The final exercise of judgment must of necessity involve a consideration of all the correspondence that is properly put in evidence by both sides, all the correspondence tendered in order to establish the case and all that produced in order to disprove the existence of a contract. It is only after such detailed consideration that a tribunal can fairly come to a conclusion as to whether or not the parties actually arrived at an agreement. See Thomas Hussey v. Horne-Payne (1879) 4 App. Cas. 311. The task of analysing the several letters and attempts to reconcile the one with the other is undoubtedly a very difficult one calling for the most serious examination of each and every one of several documents until the tribunal is able to say whether a contract is indeed established.

— Coker JSC. Shell Bp Petroleum Dev. Co. v. Jammal Engineering (Nigeria) Limited (1974)

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DECLARATORY JUDGEMENT IS DISCRETIONARY

In the case of Egbunike v. Muonweokwu (1962) 1 All NLR 46 Taylor, FJ. held as follows on p. 51. “A declaratory judgment is discretionary. It is a form of judgment which should be granted only in circumstances in which the Court is of opinion that the party seeking it is, when all the facts are taken into account, fully entitled to the exercise of the Court’s discretion in his favour.”

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EXECUTORY JUDGEMENT VS DECLARATORY JUDGEMENT

Executory judgment declares the respective rights of the parties and then proceeds to order the defendant to act in a particular way. e.g. to pay damages or refrain from interfering with the plaintiffs’ rights, such order being enforceable by execution if disobeyed. Declaratory judgments, on the other hand, merely proclaim the existence of a legal relationship and do not contain any order which may be enforced against the defendant. Second: A declaratory judgment may be the ground of subsequent proceedings in which the right, having been violated, receives enforcement but in the meantime there is no enforcement or any claim to it … A declaratory judgment is complete in itself since the relief is the declaration. See Vol. 1 Halbury Laws, 4th Ed., para. 185 187; Akunnia v. Attorney General of Anambra State (1977) 5 S.C. (161 at 177).

— Agbaje JSC. Okoya & Ors. V. S. Santilli & Ors. ( SC.206/1989, 23 MAR 1990)

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GROUNDS UPON WHICH A COURT OF LAW CAN SET ASIDE HIS EARLIER RULING

A court of law has the inherent power to set aside its decision or that of a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction under special circumstances, for instance where the decision is taken without jurisdiction, where a misrepresentation is made which influenced the decision, where there is a suppression of material facts or where the order is irregularly granted. Therefore, in appropriate situations, a court can invoke its inherent jurisdiction or power to set aside its judgment or order where it is made without jurisdiction or in appropriate cases where the order or decision is afflicted by another virus capable of rendering the decision or order ineffective null and void. See, UBA PLC VS. MAGAMA NIGERIA LIMITED & ANOR (2013) LPELR – 20685 (CA), OBIMONURE VS. ERINOSHO & ANOR (1966) LPELR – 25301 (SC) and ALAYA VS. ISAAC (2019) LPELR – 46881 (CA). The law is that where a court makes an ex – parte order (as in the present case) without jurisdiction, the same order could be varied or discharged depending on the circumstances of the case, the grounds under which the court could do so as rightly highlighted by the learned counsel to the Respondent are as follows: (i) If the plaintiff has not used his administrative powers that might have resolved the difficulty; (ii) if default has been made in giving security for costs: (iii) if the affidavit has not been filed when the injunction was moved for; (iv) if it was granted on a suppression or misrepresentation of material facts; (v) if it was irregularly granted; (vi) if the plaintiff failed to attend to be cross examined: (vii) if there had been delay in complying with an undertaking to amend the writ by adding a party as plaintiff; (viii) if there is non-disclosure of material facts.

— C.N. Uwa, JCA. FRN v Ozekhome (2021) – CA/L/174/19

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