⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Savannah Bank Of Nigeria Ltd. v. Pan Atlantic Shipping & Transport Agencies Ltd & Anor. (1987) – SC
Savannah Bank Of Nigeria Ltd.
1. Pan Atlantic Shipping & Transport Agencies Ltd
2. Nicannar Food Co. Ltd.
(1987) 1 NWLR (Pt.49) 212 2;
(1987) All N.L.R 42;
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Dahunsi Olugbemi Coker, JSC
⦿ LAWYERS WHO ADVOCATED
FOR THE APPELLANT
– Mr Ajayi, S.A.N.
FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Chief Sowemimo, S.A.N.
The appellant sued the respondents especially the 1st respondent for delivering shipped goods to the 2nd respondent without the consent of the appellant. In fact, the necessary documents (such as the bill of lading – It is the bill of lading which is the symbol of the goods and accordingly, his right of action derives from the contract of the carriage of the goods arising from the bill of lading) was not shown to the 1st respondent before the transfer of goods to the 2nd respondent.
At the State High Court, judgement was given in favour of the appellant. The 1st respondent appealed, and the appeal was allowed. The Court of Appeal held that the High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
The appellant has herein appealed to this Court.
1. The nature or cause of action before the Lagos State High Court and the competence of that Court to hear and determine it?
2. Whether the respondent is entitled to the protection provided under the third paragraph of Article III Rule 6 of Hague Rules in the Schedule Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, Cap. 29, Laws of the
⦿ HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI
1. As for issue 1, the Supreme Court stated that it concerns issue of admiralty. And, that the State High Court has jurisdiction.
i. Finally, I hold that by virtue of section 230(2) of the Constitution and section 7(1) of the Federal High Court Act 1973, and the unlimited jurisdiction under section 236 of the said Constitution both the Federal and the State High Courts have concurrent jurisdiction in admiralty causes.
ii. Section 236 of the Constitution, I may reiterate that subject to the provisions of the Constitution the section confers unlimited jurisdiction on the State High Courts. On the other hand, section 8(1) of the Act curtails and limits that jurisdiction. Section 8(1) is clearly inconsistent with section 236 and must be declared void.
2. The Supreme Court gave judgement in favour of the Appellant.
i. It seems to me that the learned justice overlooked the fact that it was never admitted that delivery took place between 11th and 27th January, 1979, in that the plaintiff joined issue in its reply to the Amended Statement of Defence. The plaintiff itself pleaded in paragraph 8 of the Amended Statement of Claim that the consignment was delivered between November 1979 and March, 1980. The learned trial judge did not make any finding on the issue. There is no evidence on record from which the learned justice of appeal could have reached the decision on the issue. It is not right to make any finding of a disputed fact in the absence of evidence in support. Although, it is common ground that the cargo was delivered to the 2nd defendant, there is no evidence of the date before the appeal court. And since different dates of delivery were pleaded and not supported by evidence, the defence must fail.
He stated that the State High Court does not have jurisdiction since this matter is an Admiralty issue.
i. Our differences lie in the fundamental difference of approach we have adopted in the interpretation of the all important expression of “unlimited jurisdiction” in section 236(1) of the Constitution 1979. I have accordingly decided to write my own judgment in this appeal.
ii. It is a cardinal principle of interpretation that where the words used in an enactment are clear and unambiguous they must be given the effect of their ordinary meaning. This court has adopted a [canon] in the construction of the provisions of our constitution of incorporating the words so used to save rather than defeat the intentions of the constitution. Our role is to interpret the sections liberally, see Nafiu Rabiu v. The State (1980) 5-11 SC. 130 at 148. Hence, where the alternative of two modes of construction is likely to produce a result opposed to the intentions of the law regarding the section construed, it is the duty of the Judge to prefer and apply the construction that is in accord with and will lead to the obvious intentions of the legislation.
iii. The construction of the expression “unlimited” in Section 236 suggested is obviously directed at construing out of existence any other court established by law and existing before the coming into force of the 1979 constitution. Thus, the Sharia Courts, the jurisdiction exercised by customary Courts will be vested in the State High Courts by mere construction.
iv. It is only by reading Section 236(1) together with Section 250(1), that the State High Court can exercise jurisdiction with respect to the rights etc. prescribed in S. 236(1), and in respect of civil and criminal causes arising from the laws of a state or of civil and criminal causes in respect to which the National Assembly has power to make laws. But those sections apply subject to the provisions of the Constitution, and therefore the jurisdiction they exercise are limited by the jurisdiction vested in other courts by the constitution. The State High Court cannot be correctly described as vested with unlimited jurisdiction with respect to subject matter. Its jurisdiction as a superior court of record is undoubtedly unlimited with respect of the exercise of its powers as to the penalty it can impose and the damages it can award in respect of matters within its jurisdiction.
v. The conclusion which therefore follows is that the jurisdiction of State High Courts is excluded by Section 8(1) and 63(4)(a)(e) of the Federal High Court [Act] with respect to the subject matters vested in the Federal High Court.
Federal Revenue Court (now Federal High Court) Act No. 13 of 1973;
⦿ SOME PROVISIONS
i. 236(1) of the 1979 Constitution, provides:
“Subject to the provision of this Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by law, the High Court of a State shall have unlimited jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil proceedings in which the existence or extent of a legal right, power, duty, liability, privilege, interest, obligation or claim is in issue or to hear and determine any criminal proceedings involving or relating to any penalty, forfeiture, punishment or other liability in respect of an offence committed by any person.”
ii. Section 8 of the Federal High Court Act 1973, provides:
“In so far as jurisdiction is conferred upon the Federal High Court in respect of the causes or matters mentioned in the foregoing provisions of this part the High Court or any other court of a State shall, to the extent that jurisdiction is so conferred upon the Federal High Court, CEASE to have jurisdiction in relation to such causes or matters.”
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
The Federal High Court before 1st October, 1979 was known as the Federal Revenue Court and was established by Decree of the Federal Military Government in 1973. – Dahunsi Olugbemi Coker, JSC. Savannah Bank Of Nigeria Ltd. v. Pan Atlantic Shipping & Transport Agencies Ltd & Anor. (1987)
It is an elementary principle for the determination of jurisdiction to consider the subject matter of the claim as endorsed in the writ of summons. – Karibi-Whyte, JSC. Savannah Bank Of Nigeria Ltd. v. Pan Atlantic Shipping & Transport Agencies Ltd & Anor. (1987)
Of course, every court can exercise jurisdiction for the purposes of determining whether it has jurisdiction to hear and determine a matter before it. This is not the same as the jurisdiction with respect to the subject matter of a claim which enables the court to hear and determine the claim before it on its merits. – Karibi-Whyte, JSC. Savannah Bank Of Nigeria Ltd. v. Pan Atlantic Shipping & Transport Agencies Ltd & Anor. (1987)
If a statute allows a certain period of time for bringing litigation or for commencing proceedings, it is known as a Statute of Limitation. – Oputa, JSC. Savannah Bank Of Nigeria Ltd. v. Pan Atlantic Shipping & Transport Agencies Ltd & Anor. (1987)
Cases are decided on the evidence before the Court and not on the pleadings, unless there were no issues in dispute between the parties. – Oputa, JSC. Savannah Bank Of Nigeria Ltd. v. Pan Atlantic Shipping & Transport Agencies Ltd & Anor. (1987)
Jurisdiction is a very serious matter and should be conferred or removed by express words. – Oputa, JSC. Savannah Bank Of Nigeria Ltd. v. Pan Atlantic Shipping & Transport Agencies Ltd & Anor. (1987)