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REQUIREMENT FOR CONTEMPT IN FACIE CURIAE

Dictum

For words or actions used in the face of the Court, or in the course of proceedings, to be contempt, they must be such as would interfere with the course of justice.

– Chima Centus Nweze, J.S.C. Independent National Electoral Commission & Anor v. Ejike Oguebego & Ors (2017)

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COURT’S POWER TO PUNISH FOR CONTEMPT

One would note that the court’s power to punish for contempt is as old as the courts themselves. In the celebrated case of Atake v. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1982) 11 S.C. 153, the Supreme Court, per Idigbe, J.S.C., had decided that the power of the court to punish for contempt is inherent and indeed preserved under Sections 6 and 36(3)(a) of the 1979 Constitution. It is undoubtedly a sine qua non to the smooth and proper administration of justice and ought to be preserved. It belongs to the realm of discretionary powers of the court. But the courts have recognised its uniqueness and have cautioned that the power to punish for contempt should be invoked sparingly.

– Achike JCA. Adeyemi v. Edigin (1990)

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PROCEDURE FOR CONTEMPT: EX FACIE CURIAE

Above all, the case must be one the facts surrounding the alleged contempt are so notorious as to be virtually incontestable, where the Judge would have to rely on evidence or testimony of witnesses to events occurring outside his view and outside of his presence in Court, he should not try the case himself. The matter must be placed before another judge where the usual procedure for the arrest, charge and prosecution of the offender must be followed, Oku v. The State. In other words, in the trial of criminal contempt ex facie curiae, an offender is entitled to the benefit of a full process of a criminal trial.

– Chima Centus Nweze, J.S.C. Independent National Electoral Commission & Anor v. Ejike Oguebego & Ors (2017)

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LAW OF CONTEMPT IS FOR UPHOLDING THE EFFECTIVE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE

The principles enshrined in the law of contempt are there to hold and ensure the effective administration of justice. They are the means by which the law vindicates the public interest in the administration of justice. It is also settled that the law of contempt does not exist for the sake of the personal aggrandizement of the judge nor is it there to protect the private rights of parties or litigants.

– Kekere-Ekun, JCA. Alechenu v. AG Benue (2011) – CA/J/220/2002

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INFERIOR COURT SHOULD NOT TRY CONTEMPT OF COURT

From the foregoing, I am unable to hold that the extra-judicial vituperative exchanges between the appellant and the respondent in the peculiar circumstances of this case amounted to contempt of court. On the contrary I think that the invocation of the power of contempt in the instant case bordered on abuse of judicial authority. It is clearly improper and will expose the administration of justice to ridicule if a magistrate or a presiding officer of an inferior court were invested with such extraordinary powers to provoke unnecessary extra-judicial verbal exchanges with counsel or a member of the public and yet invoke against him the lethal and drastic power to punish for contempt.

– Achike JCA. Adeyemi v. Edigin (1990)

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COMMITTAL FOR CONTEMPT IS BY WAY OF BREVI MANU

Committal for contempt in the face of the Court is by way of a brevi manu procedure. This allows the Judge to be the accuser, prosecutor, jury and Judge all rolled into one. It is a negation of some of the very well-known principles upon which our common law oriented adjudicatory mechanism are founded upon. Of great and utmost concern is the total derogation of one of the pillars of the principles of natural justice; where it is not allowed for one to be a Judge in his own case- Nemo judex in causa sua, in the brevi manu procedure.

– A.A.B. Gumel, JCA. Alechenu v. AG Benue (2011) – CA/J/220/2002

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POWER TO PUNISH FOR CONTEMPT IS NOT SUBJECTIVE

Clearly, it seems to me that the discretionary power of the court to punish for contempt is reviewable. Any reviewing authority is undoubtedly invited to make an objective assessment of a matter under consideration. To, therefore, hold as the lower court did, that the test regarding the power of the court to punish for contempt is subjective, is with respect, unacceptable.

– Achike JCA. Adeyemi v. Edigin (1990)

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