“The Rule Does Not Provide For Sanctions, For Proliferation Of Issues From One Ground Of Appeal. Indeed, Courts Possess The Inherent Power To Modify Or Reframe An Issue For Determination, So Long It Does Not Lead To Injustice To Any Party, Or If It Is In The Interest Of Justice”
In the Supreme Court of Nigeria
Holden at Abuja
On Friday the 12th Day of January, 2018
Before Their Lordships
Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili
Musa Dattijo Muhammad
Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs
Chima Centus Nweze
Justices, Supreme Court
Hon. Adeyemi Sabit Ikuforiji ………Appellant
Federal Republic of Nigeria……Respondent
(Lead Judgement delivered by Hon. Ejembi Eko, JSC)
The Appellant and another, were tried for offence of criminal conspiracy and offences under Sections 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 (MLPA 2004) and
Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (MLPA 2011). The Charges related to the acceptance of cash payments from the Lagos State House of Assembly, without going through financial institutions, which under the MLPA, are criminal offences.
At trial, Counsel for the Appellant filed an application, praying the Court to hold that the Appellant had no case to answer. On 26 September, 2014, the learned trial Judge, ruled that the Respondent failed to present a prima facie case, warranting the Appellant being called upon to enter upon his defence and discharged the Appellant.
The Respondent thereafter, lodged its appeal against the No-case Ruling.
The Appellant (Respondent) at the lower Court, settled its Brief of Argument, wherein a notice of Preliminary Objection was raised on the incompetence of Grounds 1-4 of the appeal. The Court of Appeal agreed with the objection; thus, the appeal was sustained on Grounds 5-14. The Court of Appeal further noted that, Issues 4 and 5 formulated by the Respondent herein, were formulated from Ground 6.Observing the proliferation of the issues, the Court reframed Issue 5 from grounds 12, 13 & 14 of the Grounds of Appeal,and excised Ground 6. In embarking on this ‘blue pencil surgery’ of Issue 5, the Court opined that the objection to the Issue leaned so much on technicality, than paying attention to doing substantial justice, which it had so done by removing Ground 6 from Issue 5.
The Appellant thereby, appealed to the Supreme Court, making an issue of the exercise of the Court of Appeal in reframing Issue 5 before it.
Issues for Determination
The Issues considered by the Court were: 1. Whether the Court of Appeal, was right in holding that proliferation of Issues from the Grounds of Appeal, was more of a technical than a fundamental rule. 2. Whether the Court of Appeal, was right in holding that the Respondent had made out a prima facie case, to warrant the Appellant to enter a defence to the Charge.
On the first Issue, Counsel for the Appellant argued that, the Appellate Courts frown at Proliferation of Issues, and that the error is a fundamental one which affects the competence of the Issue. For the Respondent however, it was posited that the lower Court rightly adjudged the objection to the competence of the Issue as being technical, and that the exercise by the Court in removing Ground 6 from the Issue 5 formulated by the Respondent, is sustainable in law. Regarding the second Issue, Counsel for the Appellant submitted that, the conclusion that the Respondent made a prima facie case to warrant the Appellant to be called upon to enter his defence to the Charge was erroneous, it being premised on the belief that the offence for which the Appellant was charged, is a strict liability offence, and that it has the power to review the findings of the trial Court even when there is no appeal thereon. On the other hand, Counsel for the Respondent argued that, an Appellate Court has the power to interfere with the evaluation of evidence by the trial Court, in appropriate cases.
Court’s Judgement and Rationale
By Order 18 Rule 3(1) of the Court of Appeal Rules, 2011, an Appellant is enjoined to file his Brief of Argument which shall contain the issues arising in the appeal, as well as Amended or Additional Grounds of Appeal. The Rule does not provide for sanctions, for Proliferation of Issues from one Ground of Appeal. Indeed, Courts possess the inherent power to modify or reframe an Issue for Determination, so long it does not lead to injustice to any party, or if it is in the interest of justice. AFRICAN INTERNATIONAL BANK LTD. v INTEGRATED DIMENSIONAL SYSTEM LTD. & ORS (2012) LPELR 9710 (SC).
The Appellant did not seek to overturn the appeal in its entirety, but addressed the academic postulations rather than any real practical issues in the appeal. Issue No. 3 of the Appellant, was formulated from an obiter dictum of the lower Court. Their Lordships held, based on CPL DESMOND ONUJU v THE STATE (2013) LPELR 20803, that the Courts, in their discretion exercised in the interest of justice, when parties Proliferate Issues from valid Grounds of Appeal, still reframe issues and determine the appeal on such reframed issues. It is not a Rule, that the Court had to inevitably accept the issues framed by the Appellant as immutable.However, in certain cases, the Court may reframe the issues formulated themselves from the Grounds of Appeal, where issues formulated by either the Appellant or Respondent do not reflect the complaint in the grounds of appeal. OKUNRINBOYE EXPORT CO. LTD. & ORS v SKYE BANK PLC (2009) 6 NWLR (PT.435) 518.
By the provisions of Order 6 Rule 2(1) of the Court of Appeal Rules, 2011, an appeal at the lower court shall be by way of rehearing. Also, Section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act, 2004, empowers the lower Court to have full jurisdiction over the whole proceedings, as if the proceedings were instituted before it as a Court of first instance, and may rehear the case in whole or part. The Court observed that, the appeal at the lower Court was determined by the Issue one raised by the Respondent, on whether or not the trial Court was right to uphold the No Case Submission, wherein the then Respondent had relied on the case of IBEZIAKO v COMM. OF POLICE (1963) ALL NLR 61 AT 68 – 69. The Court reasoned that, based on the above authority, there was no way the lower Court, in considering the appeal, could have decided on upholding the No-Case Submission, without considering the facts on which the application was predicated. Since the issue was: whether the trial Court, on the evidence before it, properly or improperly upheld the no-case submission, it behoves the lower Court, to re-evaluate the evidence before coming to its own conclusion that the trial Court was wrong in holding that, on the evidence available, the Respondent had by the evidence preferred at the trial established a prima facie case, warranting it to call upon the Appellant to enter his defence.
On when can a prima facie case be said to have been made by the Prosecution, the court listed the elements which the prosecution must prove for the offence under section 1 of either the MLPA, 2004 or MLPA, 2011, that is: (1) the Defendant is a natural person, not a corporation and (II) the defendant, an individual, made or accepted cash payment in excess of N500,000.00 in the charge under section 1 MLPA, 2004, or, in respect of the charge under section 1 MLPA, 2011, the amount is N5,000,000.00.
In this case, the prosecution led evidence through PW1 and PW2 and some documents, to establish the allegations brought against the Appellant. PW1 testified that his investigation team recovered cash registers from the Lagos State House of Assembly, and the analysis of the documents revealed that various amounts in excess of the prescribed statutory threshold were collected by the 2nd Defendant, P.A. to the Appellant, on his behalf. PW1 further testified that, both the Appellant and the 2nd Defendant, after being confronted with the discovery, also confirmed receiving cash payments in excess of the threshold. The extra- judicial statements of Appellant and various other documents, were tendered to establish the prima facie case that the Appellant had a case to answer, and the Appellant did not prove that the evidence of the Prosecution was badly discredited during their cross-examination, to the extent that no Tribunal could act on them.
The court observed that from the facts disclosed by the evidence of PW1, PW2, and the documentary evidence vis-à-vis the Charges, a prima facie case had been disclosed by the Prosecution, to warrant the Appellant being called to offer his defence.
It was added that, at the stage of No-Case Submission, the Court is not called upon to express opinion on the evidence before it. All that the Court is expected to do, is to determine whether there exists legally admissible evidence, linking the Accused person with the commission of the alleged offence (s), and if the No- Case Submission is on the basis of some discredited evidence, such evidence must be on the face of the printed record.
On the argument that the act complained of, was legitimate in the function of the official capacity of the office of the Speaker of Lagos State, the Court stated that such argument was not meant for a No-Case Submission, and it was similar to the argument in KALU v FRN (2012) LPELR 9284 CA, which was rejected to be premature as a defence at the stage of No-Case Submission.
Furthermore, the Court stated that the purpose for either the payment or receipt of cash in excess of the prescribed threshold, was not a mens rea defence under the MLPA 2004 or MLPA, 2011. Rather, the duty of the Judge, is to discover the intention of the Legislature and bring it out, and not to go outside the language of the Statute, and where words used are clear and unambiguous, they must be given their ordinary meaning, so as to avoid reading into the provisions, meaning not intended by the lawmakers.
Finally, the Court found no substance in the appeal, and accordingly dismissed same. Thus, the judgement of the Court of Appeal and the Order remitting the case to the
Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment to any Judge other than Buba J for hearing de novo, was re-affirmed.
Oludele Adegboyega Adeogun, Esq. for the Appellant
E.E. Iheanacho, Esq. for the Respondent.
Reported by Optimum Publishers Limited (Publishers of the Nigerian Monthly Law Reports (NMLR))
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A Report Of The Judgement Of The 16 Divisions Of The Court Of Appeal In Nigeria