⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Weekly Insight And Communication Network Limited & Anor v. Mr. Francis Green Peter & Ors (2019) – CA
by NSA PaulPipAr
⦿ LITE HOLDING
The appeal was allowed; the Court of Appeal stated that the respondent did not prove the ingredients of defamation as required by law. Further, the writ of summons of the plaintiffs (now Respondents) was not signed at the trial court and this deprived the trial court of the requisite jurisdiction, as the writ is incurably bad.
⦿AREA OF LAW
Law of Torts.
1. Weekly Insight and Communication Network Limited.
2. David Augustine
1. Mr. Francis Green Peter
2. Mrs. Affiong Etim Oton
3. Mr. Green Peter Ikpe
4. Commissioner Of Police, Akwa Ibom State
Court of Appeal
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Muhammed Lawal Shuaibu, J.C.A.
* FOR THE APPELLANT
– Chief Godwin O. Effiong.
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Effiong Udofia, Esq.
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
On Wednesday, 18th February, 2009, the Defendants (now appellants) published an article in their weekly insight captioned “Evil Son Arranges kidnappers to Abduct mother”. The article at page 6 stated how police detective thought that it was the 1st respondent herein that was the real instigator of a plan to abduct his mother so as to give to the concerned gang the purported five million naira sent to the mother by her daughter abroad.
The 1st – 3rd respondents therefore filed an action on libel against the appellants in the High Court of Akwa Ibom State claiming the sum of twenty million naira damages and retraction of the said publication. The matter proceeded to trial with the 1st – 3rd respondents calling four witnesses and tendering the said publication which was admitted and marked Exhibit A.
The appellants called one witness and upon the 3rd respondent raising a no case submission, the claim against the 3rd respondent was accordingly dismissed and his name struck out by the trial Court.
The learned trial judge after considering the evidence before him entered judgment against the appellants and in favour of 1st respondent at pages 205 – 206 of the record of appeal as follows: “In the end, this case succeeds in part. Accordingly, the defendants be and are hereby directed to forwith retract the said libelious publication and give the retraction as much prominence as they gave the original news report in the front page of their tabloid, The defendant shall without delay pay to the 1st plaintiff damages which I assess at N3,000,000.00 (Three Million Naira) only in view of the times we have found ourselves in this country and the fact that our currency is now worthless on account of the economic recession and which free fall is continuous, the 2nd and 3rd plaintiffs case fails and is hereby dismissed. Cost of action in favour of the 1st plaintiff above is assessed and fixed at N50,000 (Fifty Thousand Naira) only against the defendants”.
Dissatisfied with the judgment; the appellants appealed to this Court through a notice of appeal filed on 26/10/2016. The initial notice of appeal contained two grounds but by leave of this Court granted on 6/4/18, the appellants amended their notice of appeal which contains five grounds.
1. Whether the trial Court properly evaluated the evidence as presented by the parties in this case to arrive at the decision of finding the appellants liable when the 1st – 3rd Respondents evidence lacks the ingredients required for the Court to so find.
2. Whether the Writ of summons that originated this suit was properly signed according to law to have invoked the adjudicating power of the trial Court.
3. Whether a Court of competent jurisdiction is precluded from looking at the Courts record even after a party had been struck out.
4. Whether the 1st respondent in the circumstances of this case and facts lead at the trial, is entitled to damages if he is, whether the sum of N3,000,000.00 awarded by the trial judge is not grossly excessive to warrant the interference of the Court of Appeal.
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENTS.
i. Hitherto, at page 198 of the record of appeal, the learned trial judge held as follows:- “I think it is not in dispute at all that the 1st plaintiff had been arrested by the police. The arrest of course, had to do with the alleged plan by the 1st plaintiff and a criminal gang to kidnap the mother of the 1st plaintiff (i.e the 2nd plaintiff) for a ransom.” In the light of the above, did the 1st respondent discharge the burden placed on him in law and was the learned trial judge right in holding that the said publication was capable of exposing the 1st respondent to ridicule and contempt? Having found as a fact that the arrest of the 1st respondent was as a result of the alleged plan by him and a criminal gang to kidnap his mother for ransom, that undoubtedly in my view negates the trial Courts findings of malice and falsity in the said publication.
2. ISSUE 2 WAS RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENTS.
i. By virtue of Order 6 Rule 3 of the Akwa Ibom State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009, a plaintiff or claimant suing on his own or through a legal practitioner, shall sign and stamp each copy of the originating process. A careful perusal of the originating writ of summons in the instant case at pages 2-3 at the record of appeal leaves no one in doubt that same was neither signed by the 1st & 3rd respondents nor their legal practitioners.
ii. Learned counsel for the 1st – 3rd respondents has strenuously argued that an appeal being a continuation of trial, the question of non signing of the originating process is a fresh issue and as such could not be raised on appeal without leave of Court. The law is trite that an issue of jurisdiction is fundamental to adjudication and can be raised at any stage in the proceedings even for the first time in the Supreme Court. I therefore agree with the submission of the learned counsel for the appellants in their reply brief that the argument that the objection ought to have been taken before the trial Court is erroneous since the issue involved is not a matter of irregularity in procedure but of substantive law i.e an issue of jurisdiction of the Court to hear and determine the matter as constituted. See GALADIMA v. TAMBAI (2000) FWLR (pt 14) 2369. In SLB CONSORTIUM LTD V. NNPC (2011) ALL FWLR (pt 583) 1902 at 2904 the Supreme Court was emphatic that once it cannot be said who signed a process it is incurably bad, and the rules of Court that seem to provide a remedy are of no use as a rule of Court cannot override the law.
3 & 4. ISSUES 3 & 4 WERE RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENT.
i. HAVING held the view that the non signing of the Writ of Summons has deprived the trial Court of the requisite jurisdiction and that the trial Court has failed to properly evaluate the evidence adduced before it, all the four issues are invariably resolved in favour of the appellants and against the respondents.
⦿ SOME PROVISION(S)
⦿ RELEVANT CASE(S)
The Supreme Court in TORTI v. UKPABI (1984) 1 SCNLR 214 at 227 – 228 has held the view that where a document is admissible, the issue of proper custody is irrelevant to the issue of admissibility.
⦿ CASE(S) RELATED
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
It is no doubt the primary duty of the trial Court to evaluate the evidence produced by the contending parties in support of their contention before arriving at its decision in one way or the other. It does so by putting the totality of the acceptable testimony adduced by both parties on an imaginary scale with the evidence of the plaintiff on one side while that of the defendant is put on the other side. The Court then weighs them together to see which is heavier not by number of witnesses called by each party, but by the quality or probative value of the testimony of those witnesses. Where the trial Court abdicates this sacred duty or when it demonstrates that it had not taken proper advantage of having heard and seen the witness testify, evaluation of evidence is said to be at large. – Shuaibu, JCA. Weekly v. Green (2019)
The law is settled that Courts have absolute power to look at the documents in their files and utilize them to support established facts. Thus, the learned counsel for the appellants is right that the trial court has abdicated its inherent power of making use of all evidence and materials placed before it. – Shuaibu, JCA. Weekly v. Green (2019)
The law is firmly settled that a document is presumed genuine when it is produced from proper custody and is substantially in the proper form required by law. – Shuaibu, JCA. Weekly v. Green (2019)
An amended statement of claim filed but not moved is liable to be struck out by the trial Court. – Shuaibu, JCA. Weekly v. Green (2019)
It is however the law that when a document is inadmissible in all events; objection, or no objection it remains inadmissible and an appellate Court has the inherent jurisdiction to exclude it. – Shuaibu, JCA. Weekly v. Green (2019)
Libel is a defamatory publication in writing. It is a tort in which the writer or publisher attacks the reputation, integrity and fidelity of the victim of the publication. It is a slur, a stigma and a disparagement on the character of the victim. The effect, the victim of the libelous publication is looked upon as a societal misfit. He is slummed and disliked. – Shuaibu, JCA. Weekly v. Green (2019)
In an action for libel, the plaintiff must therefore prove the following:- (a) That the publication was in writing, (b) That the publication was false, (c) That the publication was published to some other person aside from the plaintiff and the defendant. (d) That the publication referred to the plaintiff and was defamatory of him, and (e) That the publication was by the defendant. – Shuaibu, JCA. Weekly v. Green (2019)