➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
The Hon. Justice E. O. Araka v. The Hon. Justice Don Egbue (2003) – SC
by PipAr Chima
Supreme Court – SC.167/1999
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Friday, the 11th day of July, 2003
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Admissibility of evidence;
Certification of secondary evidence;
➥ NOTABLE DICTA
⦿ COURT IS TO INTERPRETE STATUTE AS DICTATED BY THE STATUTE.
The duty of the court is to interpret the words contained in the statute and not go outside the words in search of an interpretation which is convenient to the court or to the parties or one of the parties. Even where the provisions of a statute are hard in the sense that they will do some inconvenience to the parties, the court is bound to interpret the provisions once they are clear and unambiguous. It is not the duty of the court to remove the chaff from the grain in the process of interpretation of a statute to arrive at favourable terms for the parties outside the contemplation of the lawmaker. That will be tantamount to traveling outside the statute on a voyage of discovery. This court cannot embark upon such a journey. – Tobi JSC.
⦿ WHERE PROVISION OF STATUTE ARE CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS, LITERAL RULE IS APPLIED
The primary function of the court is to search for the intention of the lawmaker in the interpretation of a statute. Where a statute is clear and unambiguous, as it is in this case, the court in the exercise of its interpretative jurisdiction, must stop where the statute stops. In other words, a court of law has no jurisdiction to rewrite a statute to suit the purpose of one of the parties or both parties. The moment a court of law intends to rewrite a statute or really rewrites a statute, the intention of the lawmaker is thrown overboard and the court changes place with the lawmaker. In view of the fact that that will be against the doctrine of separation of powers entrenched in the Constitution, a court of law will not embark on such an unconstitutional act. Courts of law follow the literal rule of interpretation where the provision of the statute is clear and no more. And that is the position in this appeal. – Tobi JSC.
⦿ FOREIGN AUTHORITIES CANNOT SUPPLANT OUR CASE LAWS
Foreign authorities of the greatest learning cannot supplant our case law which is rightly decided on issues coming before this court. In Prince Adigun v. A-G., Oyo State (No 2) (1987) 21 NWLR (Pt. 56) 197, Karibi-Whyte, J.S.C. said at page 230: “This court has reached the stage where it does not regard differences from the highest English or other commonwealth courts of common law jurisdiction as necessarily suggesting that it is wrong.” – Tobi JSC.
⦿ FOREIGN AUTHORITIES WILL NOT APPLY WHERE CONTRARY TO OUR JUDGMENTS
I should not be misunderstood as saying that foreign decisions, including Indian authorities cannot be used by this court. No, that is not the point I am making. Foreign decisions will continue to be useful in the expansion of the frontiers of our jurisprudence but this court cannot invoke such decisions where it thinks they are contrary to the judgments of the court which are correctly decided. Of course, this court will not hesitate to use any foreign decision if its correct, even though contrary to our decision; if the court comes to the conclusion that its decision is wrong. In such a case, this court will, in the light of the foreign decision, overrule itself and choose to go by the foreign decision which is correctly given. Subject to the above, the state of the law that foreign decisions are of persuasive authority will remain and for all times and forever. – Tobi JSC.
⦿ NOT FUNCTION OF THE COURT TO SUPPLY OMISSION
The main thrust of the appeal appears to be that if the original of the public document is lost or destroyed thereby rendering the making of a certified copy impracticable, it would be unjust not to admit other form of secondary evidence such as a photocopy of the original document. I share the plight of the appellant but it must be borne in mind that the duty of the court is to expound the law and not to expand it. It is not the function of the court to supply omissions in statutes and thereby embark on judicial legislation. – Edozie, JSC
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
Mr. F.R.A. Williams (Jnr.).
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
Dr. Gbolahan Elias.
➥ CASE HISTORY
They are very well set out in the appellant’s brief. It is an action on libel. The appellant, as plaintiff, filed an action claiming the sum of N10 million as damages for libel against the respondent in a letter dated 10th September, 1984, written by the respondent concerning the appellant and in the way of his office as Chief Judge of Anambra State.
This case revolves around the certification of a secondary document whose primary document has been lost or not available.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION
[APPEAL: DISMISSED, WITH N10,000 COST IN FAVOUR OF RESPONDENT]
I. Whether, in a case where the original of a public document is lost and cannot be found or where such document has been destroyed and is no longer in existence, any secondary evidence of such document (other than a certified true copy thereof) is admissible in evidence?
RULING: IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR.
A. As indicated above, section 97(2)(c) contains the words “but no other kind of secondary evidence is admissible”. The word “but” in the con, as a conjunction, means “against what might be expected; in spite of this” and the word is followed by the specific negative expression “no other kind of secondary evidence is admissible”. Can this court give another interpretation to the very clear words in section 97(2)(c) I think not. It is merely saying the obvious that section 97(1)(c) comes before section 97(1)(e). This obvious statement is made to score less obvious point and it is that the draftsman was clearly conscious of section 97(1)(c) before he added section 97(1)(e). There is also the related issue and it is that where a court of law is exposed to two provisions; one general and the other specific, the court will fall upon the specific provision, in the event of an apparent conflict. This principle of interpretation may not even apply here because there is no conflict between the provision of sections 97(1)(c) and 97(1)(e).
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
Section 97(1)(e) and (2)(c) Evidence Act, Cap. 62, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and Lagos, 1958;
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ JUDGMENT OF A COURT IS A PUBLIC DOCUMENT AND MUST BE CERTIFIED
In Nzekwu v. Nzekwu (1989) 2 NWLR (Pt. 104) 373, this court held that a judgment of a court being a public document within the meaning of that expression in section 108 of the Evidence Act and because of the combined effect of section 96(1)(e) and (2)(c) of the Evidence Act, 1958 the secondary evidence admissible in respect of the original document constituting the proceedings and judgment of a court is a certified true copy of the document but no other kind of secondary evidence.
⦿ NOT THE DUTY OF A COURT TO FILL GAPS IN STATUTES
In Adewunmi v. A-G., Ekiti State (2002) 2 NWLR (Pt. 751) 474, Wali, J.S.C. said at page 512: “In cases of statutory construction the court’s authority is limited. Where the statutory language and legislative intent are clear and plain, the judicial inquiry terminates there. Under our jurisprudence, the presumption is that ill-considered or unwise legislation will be corrected through democratic process. A court is not permitted to distort a statute’s meaning in order to make it conform with the Judge’s own views of sound social policy.”
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)