CASE SUMMARY OF:
Abu Idakwo v. Leo Ejiga & Anor (2002) - SC
by NSA PaulPipAr
AREA OF LAW
- Constitutional Law
- Fair hearing;
1. Leo Ejiga;
2. Igala Traditional Council
(2002) 13 NWLR (Pt.783) 156;
(2002) 7 S.C (Pt.II) 1;
LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
E. O. AYOOLA, J.S.C.
* FOR THE APPELLANT
- Chief B. C. Oyibo (with him, J. O. Sanni).
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
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FACT (as relating to the issues)
By a writ of summons issued on 25th october, 1989 the appellant, plaintiff in the High Court of Kogi State, claimed, among several other declarations, a declaration that he was the rightful person to be appointed the Gago of Ukwaka Village'. On 17th july, 1995 the High Court (Ochimana, J.,) entered judgment in his favour and declared him the Gago of Ukwaka. The defendants, Leo Ejiga and Igala Traditional Council, respondents in this appeal, appealed to the Court of Appeal which, on 3rd december, 1997, allowed their appeal, set aside the judgment of the High Court and ordered that the case be heard de novo by another Judge of the High Court of Kogi State.
Before pleadings were filed in the suit in the High Court, the appellant filed a motion on notice whereby he prayed for orders of interim/interlocutory injunction against the defendants to restrain them from doing a number of things. There were two affidavits and a counter affidavit filed in the application. The trial Judge having heard addresses by counsel for the parties ruled in favour of the appellant and made orders restraining the defendants in terms of the orders sought. Pleadings having been filed by the parties, the suit proceeded to trial on the merits, the parties calling witnesses in support of their respective cases. At the conclusion of the trial the trial Judge gave judgment for the appellant.
The respondents herein appealed to the Court of Appeal contending, among other things, that there has been a miscarriage of justice in that the trial Judge had made pronouncements on the substantive issue in the case in the course of his determination of the application for interlocutory injunction.
The Court of Appeal upheld that contention. It held that: "...the trial Judge was wrong to have made pronouncement on matters which would be the subject of controversy in the substantive suit."
This is an appeal by the plaintiff/appellant.
1. is that the court below should not have limited itself to a consideration of the only issue on which it disposed of the appeal, but should have considered the other issues raised in the appeal and, particularly, the appellant's argument on them.
2. What order should an appellate court make consequent upon its finding that there had been absence of fair hearing?
HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI
[APPEAL: DISMISSED, WITH N10,000 AGAINST THE APPELLANT]
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENTS.
i. In my opinion, the view that should guide the court in cases such as the present one in which the Judge had manifestly prejudged the issues in the case before the trial, is expressed in Vol. 1(1) Halsbury's Laws of England (4th ed.) para 100 as follows: "it has been held that there is no such thing as a technical breach of natural justice, that is, non compliance with the rule is immaterial if the party claiming to be aggrieved has not suffered any significant detriment. But a mere risk that there has been actual prejudice will usually suffice, and the courts will not readily conclude that a fair hearing would have made no difference to the outcome."
ii. In similar vein is the opinion by Professor De Smith in his work, Judicial Review of Administrative Action (2nd ed.) p 227 as follows: "One can find judicial support for the view that even where breach of the rule is established, a court ought not to afford redress if satisfied that the decision would have been the same had the rule been observed. But the general rule is that it is immaterial to ask whether substantial justice was in fact done. Rather than speculate on what the decision might have been had the proper hearing taken place, the courts will normally prefer to set aside the decision made in order to reaffirm the paramount of fundamental principle."
iii. It was to show that the breach of the rule of hearing committed by the trial Judge was fundamental and beyond what can be termed technical' that the Court of Appeal took pains to examine the proceedings in the High Court and considered the issues raised in the interlocutory and substantive proceedings before coming to the one elusion that the trial Judge had prejudged the issues before the substantive trial. In these circumstances, I am satisfied that the Court of Appeal, having found that there was no fair hearing, took the proper course by limiting itself to the issue which touched on the fairness of the proceedings.
2. ISSUE 2 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENTS.
i. When the proceedings are held not to be fair and the unfairness had tainted the entire proceedings there would have been a fundamental breach of the principle of procedural equality of the parties essential to our system of adjudication, such as to make the proceedings a sham. The normal thing to do in such a situation is to set aside the decision as the Court of Appeal had done in this case. Counsel for the appellant has argued that the respondents had suffered no particular injury. I do hold that a finding that there is no fair hearing implies in itself a prejudice to the party who lost and is tantamount to a finding of a contravention of his right to fair hearing guaranteed by the constitution. He does not need to have suffered any particular injury for him to be entitled to have a decision against him, obtained unfairly, set aside.
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The question of fairness of a proceeding is quite separate from the question of the merit of the trial court's decision. When a question of fairness of hearing arises in a case the only purpose that could have been served by the appellate court considering, albeit in a restricted manner, issues of the merits of the case, in my opinion, is to see whether the result of the case would have been the same even if the breach of the principle of fair hearing had not occurred. Whether that exercise will serve any useful purpose will normally depend on the nature of the breach. In my opinion, where it will be a matter of speculation whether the same decision would have been arrived at had a heating not tainted by unfairness taken place, an enquiry into the merits is a futile exercise. I would even go as far as saying that an unfair method cannot produce a fair result. - Ayoola JSC. Idakwo v. Ejiga (2002)
The end of this brief.
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