⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Reynolds Construction Company Limited v. John Okpegboro (1999) – CA
⦿ LITE HOLDING
Fair hearing is not opened to a party who was given the opportunity to defend himself but failed to defend himself.
⦿AREA OF LAW
– Constitutional Law
– Fair hearing.
Reynolds Construction Company Limited
Court of Appeal
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
* FOR THE APPELLANT
– A.A. Alege
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Chief F.H. Eduvie
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
The plaintiff/respondent claim before the Court as endorsed in paragraph 26 of the amended statement of claim is inter alia, for: “The sum of N961,000 being special and general damages suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the destruction of his economic crops by the defendant.”
Pleadings were filed and exchanged and the trial thereafter commenced before Hayble, J.
After series of adjournments and the unavailability of the defendant’s counsel in court, the matter was set for judgement. Sequel, the defendant’s counsel filed a motion praying the honourable Court to not deliver judgement and time be granted for the defence to cross-examine the plaintiff’s witnesses. The Trial Court refused the motion.
Defendant has appealed to this Court.
1. Whether the defendant was denied fair hearing?
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
[APPEAL: DISMISSED, WITH N5,000 COST TO THE RESPONDENT]
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. The requirement that equal treatment, equal opportunity or equal consideration be given to all concerned is however not breached in a situation where a party was afforded the opportunity to be present at the trial to present his case or to defend himself but he deliberately refused to avail himself of such an opportunity through his own neglect or tardiness, since the law does not aid the indolent. The rule only comes to play where a party is denied any opportunity to be hearted. It is not applicable to a defendant who fails to appear to defend an action against him.
ii. Applying the law as declared above to the facts in the present case, it is clear that it was the defendant (now appellant) that failed to turn up to defend the claim against it. Its’ counsel was duly given notice of the date fixed for the hearing. But the man, for whatever reason he gave, failed to turn up. The appellant company was also contented with merely employing the service of a counsel to represent its interest in court. It seems to show any further interest in whatever happened to the case in court thereafter. It is correct to say that the court will not in all cases visit the misdeeds of counsel on the litigants. But before a litigant could avail himself of that advantage he must show that his absence from court was due to lack of knowledge of the proceedings in question. Thus in Doherty v. Doherty (1964) 1 All NLR 299 the appellants’ solicitors, though served with notice to appear did not attend before the registrar and took no steps to fulfill the conditions of appeal imposed by the registrar. The appeal was therefore dismissed for non-compliance. The appellants who had not been served with the notice to appear before the registrar applied for the appeal to be restored. The Supreme Court held that the appellants could not be held responsible for their solicitors’ failure to comply with the conditions imposed by the Registrar and the appeal struck out was restored. The principle decided in that case is inapplicable to the present case because the appellant company had not in the present case shown that he was not aware of the proceedings that took place on the days his counsel failed to appear in court.
S. 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended);
⦿ SOME PROVISION(S)
⦿ RELEVANT CASE(S)
⦿ CASE(S) RELATED
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
The basic criteria and attributes of fair hearing how ever include: (1) that the court or tribunal hears both sides not only in the case but also on all material issues in the case before reaching a decision which may be prejudicial to any party in the case; (2) that the court or tribunal shall give equal treatment, equal opportunity and equal consideration to all concerned; and (3) that having regard to all the circumstances in every material decision in the case, justice must not only be done but must be manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to have been done. – Akintan, JCA. Reynolds v. Okpegboro (1999)