➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Christopher Alechenu v. Attorney General of Benue State (2011) – CA
by PipAr Chima
Court of Appeal – CA/J/220/2002
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Thursday, the 7th day of July, 2011
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Contempt of court.
➥ NOTABLE DICTA
⦿ DOCUMENTS ARE ALLOWED TO SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
In my view this is the best starting point because words in a document are allowed to speak for themselves and unless a statement will lead to ambiguity or absurdity words are to be interpreted and understood based on their ordinary grammatical con or meaning. – A.A.B. Gumel, JCA.
⦿ 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.
⦿ 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.
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Ali Abubakar Babandi Gumel, J.C.A.
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
Mr. A.A. Sule
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
Mr. M.I. Fiase
➥ CASE HISTORY
The decision that gave rise to this appeal was made on 22/7/94 in the course of the proceedings in suit no. GHC/2/93. The appellant was counsel to the defendants in Suit No GHC/2/93. In the course of one of the proceedings, the learned trial Judge believed and saw the conduct of the appellant as being contemptuous of the court. Upon this, the learned Judge took serious exceptions to the attitude of Counsel and he took steps to punish same. This led to a summary trial after which the Appellant was found guilty. He was convicted for contempt in the face of the Court and was sentenced to 15 days imprisonment. Upon the order of the learned Judge the Appellant was sent to prison.
However, some days into the sentence and upon an application made on his behalf to that effect, the Appellant was released on bail pending appeal.
The Appellant was dissatisfied with the conviction and sentence imposed on him by the learned Judge of the High Court. So while on bail he appealed to this Court in a notice of appeal containing 9 grounds of appeal.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION
[APPEAL: ALLOWED, IN PART]
I. Whether the Appellant is liable in contempt?
RULING: IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR, IN PART. SENTENCE REDUCED.
A. The record showed that he had his junior, Mr. Ibitayo with him. It was therefore not true as he would want us to believe that he did not rudely walked out of the Court with impunity. The 1st Defendant told the Court that he pocked his books and went out. When he was confronted by the learned Trial Judge he did not tell the Court that he left his junior behind when he went out. It was not true that the Appellant went out to ease himself, otherwise why would he not have left his junior in Court with his books if he at all meant to come bock and continue the case with PW2.
B. The situation the lower Court saw on the date in question cannot re-enact itself in exactly the same way as it happened. So deciding as it did, the lower Court was acting on the spur of the moment under a subjective feeling that the conduct of the Appellant was contemptuous. So, I do not see how an Appellate Court can now import objectivity and sit in judgment over what the learned Trial Judge, litigants and other Counsel saw in Court on that day. When learned Counsel Mr. Alechenu, Appellant herein, sought to withdraw his appearance for the Defendants mid-stream on the floor of the Court, he said he was doing so after he had conferred with the 1st Defendant and she had agreed with him to do so. This statement by learned Counsel was very clearly false and totally untrue because the 1st Defendant immediately told the Court that she did not agree with Counsel to that effect. This is borne by the record. It is irritating and clearly discourteous for a legal practitioner to openly make a statement that he knew or believed to be untrue thereby misleading the Court. Justice can only be done in a matter on the basis of the whole truth of that matter and not anything less. Any attempt to obstruct the Court or deny it access to the whole truth may as in this case amount to contempt of Court in my humble view.
C. I would rather see that the 15 days of imprisonment ordered by the lower Court to be a bit on the high side. The number of days of imprisonment already served by the Appellant would appear to me to be a reasonable sentence in the circumstance.
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ COURT MUST BE CAREFUL IN ITS COMMITTAL FOR CONTEMPT – SOME DECIDED CASES
In the case of IZUORA V. QUEEN 13 WACA 313 the Appellant who was a legal practitioner had concluded arguments in a divorce matter and he sought for permission to be absent on the day judgment was to be delivered. The permission was granted by the Judge but it was withdrawn when Counsel on the other side also sought to be excused. For reasons that are not quite clear, the Appellant failed to appear before the Court on the day judgment was to be delivered. The learned Trial Judge convicted him and sentenced him for contempt of Court. In allowing his appeal and setting aside the conviction and sentence, the Court decided that not every act of discourtesy or breach of Counsel’s duty to clients would amount to contempt capable of being summarily punished, without much ado or brevi manu.
In AGBACHOM V. THE STATE (1970) 1 ALL NLR 71 AT 80, the learned Trial Judge punished for contempt a party to an action before him and who had deposed to a fact in an affidavit in support of an application seeking for the transfer of the matter to another Judge. That paragraph of the affidavit stated that the learned Judge had accepted a part payment of a debt which was owed to him when he was a legal practitioner by one of the parties in the instant matter. After referring to Lord Denning in R. V. METROPOLITAN POLICE COMMISSIONER (1968) 2 ALL ER 319 at 320 Lord Goddard in SHAMDASANI V. KING EMPEROR (1945) AC 264 the Supreme emphasized that a Court must be careful in the exercise of its powers to punish for contempt. The Court emphasized that the power must be used sparingly and only in serious cases.
In BOYO V. A.G. MID-WEST STATE (1971) 1 ALL NLR 343 AT 352, the Supreme Court per Ademola, CJN of 354 held that generally, contempt in the face of the Court cannot be dealt with efficiently except immediately by the very judicial officer in whose presence the offence was committed and where the offence should be dealt with summarily such a hearing must be conducted in accordance with the cardinal principle of fair process. It was also held that the case of criminal contempt capable of being punished summarily must be one in which the facts surrounding the alleged contempt are so notorious as to be virtually incontestable. This means that scrupulous care must be brought to bear on the facts and circumstances making sure that the case is very clear and beyond reasonable doubt.
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)