➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Christopher Ogidi & Ors. v. Muobike Okoli & Ors.  – CA
by PipAr Chima
Court of Appeal – CA/AK/130/2012
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Monday, The 31st day of March, 2014
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Relisting a suit;
➥ NOTABLE DICTA
⦿ DECISION OF COURT REMAINS VALID
A decision of a court (whether wrong or right) remains valid and subsisting until set aside by a court that has the jurisdiction to do so. – E.A. Agim, JCA.
⦿ THE IMPORTANCE OF STARE DECISIS IN OUR ADJUDICATORY SYSTEM
The most fundamental methodology of administration law in our country, as in most legal systems particularly the common law based systems, is stare decisis, the policy or legal principle which requires courts to follow judicial precedents established by previous decisions. Courts are mandatorily bound to follow the decisions of superior courts that are higher than them in the judicial hierarchy. All courts are bound to follow Supreme Court decisions in cases that are similar to the ones before them. It will amount to a very serious error of law for a court to refuse to follow the judicial precedent of a superior court higher in the judicial hierarchy in a case whose facts are obviously basically similar to the facts of the case before it. It is the kind of judicial attitude that is viewed, across jurisdictions, as a deliberate refusal to follow the law. Whatever different views a judge may hold as to how the law was applied to the facts in the precedent case, he or she is bound to follow the judicial precedent of the Supreme court or in the absence of a Supreme Court precedent, that of a superior court higher in the judicial hierarchy, provided the facts of the present case and that of the precedent case are basically similar. The mandatory duty to follow judicial precedent is in the public interest. It ensures that the adjudicatory process is organized and orderly. It ensures that the judicial application of law to facts is orderly and consistent and thereby makes the law more certain, predictable and responsive to the changed circumstances and expectations of the society. It helps to harmonize judicial opinion and ensure an orderly change of such opinion. The great success of the policy of stare decisis as a very reliable adjudicatory process for centuries, has attracted its application even in Roman Dutch based legal systems in varying degrees. In any case our indigenous traditional adjudicating system is precedent based. It will be dangerous to encourage derogations from the principle of stare decisis. The dis-equilibrating effects can better be imagined. Suffice it to say that it will certainly result in the failure of the judicial process, a failure of the legal system and the resulting collapse of the state structure. These consequences which may appear remote can occur as a direct result of such derogations. – E.A. Agim, JCA.
⦿ CHANGE IN LAW DOES NOT NULLIFY RIGHTS BASED ON THE OLD LAW
When the Supreme Court departs from its earlier decision on a point, the departure does not operate to generally overrule and nullify all previous decisions that followed the earlier decision it has departed from. The departure serves to chart a new direction to be followed without affecting the previous status quo. If the new decision is one on procedure including venue, pending and new cases at all levels will now be decided in accordance with the new decision. If the new decision applies the law on the existence of rights, interests and obligations differently, new and pending cases will be decided according to it depending on when the cause action arose or when the right, interest or obligation came into being. The general principle of law is that a change in law does not result in the nullification of rights and interests based on the previous law. That is why amending or repealing legislations provide for the saving of such rights and interests including ongoing situations that originated on the basis of the old law. On the basis of this general principle, it is the law prevailing at the time the right or interest accrued or at the time a situation arose and not the new law that determines its validity. In the light of the foregoing, I hold that the Learned respondent’s counsel reliance on the principle of ex nihilo nihil fit as espoused by the Legendary Lord Denning in MACFOY v. UAC (1962) AC, has no basis here. – E.A. Agim, JCA.
⦿ ONLY PARTY WHO FILED SUIT CAN APPLY FOR RE-LISTMENT OF THE SUIT
It is the plaintiff. It is only the plaintiff who filed the suit that was struck out that can apply for the relistment of the suit. The defendants have no right to apply for its relistment, since they did not file the suit- If the defendants had filed a counter claim to the plaintiff’s claim and both had been struck out, the defendants can apply to relist only the counter claim. – E.A. Agim, JCA.
⦿ CONSOLIDATION OF SUIT DOES NOT DESTROY THEIR SEPARATE EXISTENCE
It is trite law that the consolidation of two or more suits does not destroy the separate existence of the consolidated suits and fuse them into one suit. In spite of the consolidation, they remain distinct with separate existence and must be determined separately. The purpose of the consolidation is to avoid multiplication of trials on the same set of facts and issues and determine the suits in a single trial on the same facts and issues to save time and costs. – E.A. Agim, JCA.
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, J.C.A.
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN.
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
Chief I.M. Anah.
➥ CASE HISTORY
On the 20-3-2000, the High Court of Anambra State struck out consolidated suit Nos. AA/6/75 and AA/19/76 on the grounds that it had no jurisdiction to entertain matters relating to lands in non-urban areas of the State.
By a motion on notice dated and filed on 7-3-2006, the defendants (now respondents herein) applied for an order granting leave to the Registrar of the trial court to relist the case which was struck out on 20-3-2000 for lack of jurisdiction. Following the addresses of learned counsel on both sides the trial Court on the 29-10-2007 rendered its ruling granting the application and granting leave to its Registrar to relist the case.
Dissatisfied with this ruling of the trial court, the plaintiffs in the consolidated suits who were respondents to the application to relist on 12-11-2007, commenced this appeal No. CA/E/201/2008 by filing a notice of appeal containing one ground of appeal as follows- “The learned trial judge erred in law when she relisted the case which was struck out for want of jurisdiction and thereby constituted herself an appellate judge over the decision of a court of coordinate jurisdiction.”
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION
I. Whether the learned trial judge was wrong in ordering a relisting of the suit which was struck out for want of jurisdiction by a Court of co-ordinate jurisdiction?
RULING: IN APPELLANT’S FAVOUR.
A. Therefore, I agree with the submission of the Learned SAN for the appellants that in the face of a valid and subsisting decision that the trial court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the consolidated suits, no valid order can be made relisting the same suits to the cause list of the court that has been adjudged has no jurisdiction to entertain them.
B. It is obvious that following the decision of the Supreme Court in ADISA V. OYINWOLA, the law on the point changed. With this change, the previous decisions of courts that then rightly followed the Supreme Court decision in Oyeniran v Egbetola cannot be regarded as now wrong or invalid. They will remain correct and valid until they are set aside by a court that has jurisdiction to do so’ in accordance with the new Supreme Court decision and upon a valid and due legal process challenging such decisions. The Supreme Court decisions and any other final judicial determinations during that time will remain valid and binding on the parties to each case. They will not automatically cease to have effect following the new Supreme Court decision.
C. A party dissatisfied with a final decision of a court, can only appeal against it to an appellate court that has the jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. Such a party cannot come back to the court that gave the decision, urging it to reconsider the decision because it is contrary to law or wrong for any reason. The court on its part will lack the jurisdiction to judicially re-examine or reconsider its earlier decision on the issue. There is no part of the 1999 constitution and there is no statute or Rules giving the High Court the general jurisdiction to reconsider any of its earlier decision on the ground that it was wrong in law or fact.
D. It is obvious from the part of the ruling of the trial court reproduced above that the trial court decided to relist the case to avoid the circuitous journey of going to the Court of Appeal and coming back to the High Court to try the merit of the case. In its mind, it felt that there was no need wasting time going all the way to the Court of Appeal and back as the same outcome will be achieved. As the Supreme Court held in BAKARE v. APENA & ORS (1986) NWLR (PT.33) 1 “a Judge will not adopt a method of adjudication, alien to procedural rules of justice upon a plea that he is actuated by the noblest and an impassioned zeal for justice, which propels him into bizarre methods of arriving at that justice, holding as it were, as a justifying Machiavellian principle, that the end justifies the means.”
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
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