There have been several reactions following the Court of Appeal’s recent decision on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 in the case of MORENIKE IDOWU & ORS v. SEGUN KOYA INVESTMENTS LTD (2017) LPELR-43580(CA) essentially pronouncing on the validity of a judgement delivered outside the mandatory 90days period.
Section 294 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) mandates superior Courts to deliver their judgements in writing not later than ninety (90) days after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses. It provides “Every Court established under this Constitution shall deliver its decision in writing not later than ninety days after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses and furnish all parties to the cause or matter determined with duly authenticated copies of the decision within seven days of the delivery thereof”.
Most Courts of record fail to comply with this mandatory constitutional requirement, and the practice has been for the Court to order parties to re-adopt their final addresses in order to keep to the time within which judgement is to be delivered. This practice has however been condemned in several cases by Appellate Courts. In OLUBUKOLA & ANOR v. A.G OF LAGOS STATE & ORS(2016) LPELR-41451(CA) for example, NIMPAR, J.C.A who also, interestingly, delivered this instant appeal held emphatically that “…there is no provision in the rules of Court that allows re-adoption of written addresses for counsel, see OKON v. ITA (2010) LPELR – 9010 (CA). The Court can recall parties or counsel to address it on a new or moot point not covered by the written addresses which of course would require additional submissions to the previously adopted addresses but not re – adoption.”
The subject of this instant case, at trial, was on a breach of agreement to assign a piece of property. After hearing the case, the parties adopted their written addresses in the first instance on September 30, 2009, and the trial Court delivered its judgment on the June 4, 2010, right after parties were asked to merely re-adopt their final addresses (almost 9 months after). The trial Court granted in part, the claims of the Respondent who was the Claimant and dismissed the counterclaim of the Defendants (now Appellants). Dissatisfied with the said decision, the Appellants filed the Appeal.
NIMPAR, J.C.A. again, whilst delivering the judgement, condemned the practice of re-adopting final addresses with a view to abridging the 90days mandatory requirement viz-a-viz the provisions of Section 294(1) of the Constitution. The Court held that “[t]he order of the lower Court for the parties to re-adopt their addresses seems to have been directed at avoiding the consequences of non-compliance with the stipulations of Section 294(1) of the Constitution”. She went further to hold that the re-adoption of addresses “does not have the consequence of re-opening the computation of the period within which judgment is to be delivered.” Explaining the rationale for this position, the Honourable Justice held “… re-adoption simpliciter without addition of any fresh points of law on which the Court needs clarification is a facade and would not serve to have the computation of time for delivery of judgment to start afresh from the date of the re-adoption.”
NIMPAR, J.C.A. advised that “Trial Courts should embrace case management regime in handling cases and stop hiding behind Section 294(5) to deliver judgments after 90 days. With the new dispensation of training of judges on case management skills by the National Judicial Institute, judges should avoid the practice of recalling parties to readopt.”
It is also important to point out that Section 294(5) of the Constitution provides that “the decision of a court shall not be set aside or treated as a nullity solely on the ground of non-compliance with the provisions of subsection (1) of this section unless the Court exercising jurisdiction by way of appeal or review of that decision is satisfied that the party complaining has suffered a miscarriage of justice by reason thereof.”
From the provisions of sub-section 5, it is clear that the provisions of sub-section 1 is qualified and non compliance thereof should not nullify the judgment of a trial court if delivered outside 90days except there is proof that a complaining party (usually the Appellant) has suffered a miscarriage of justice from the non-delivery of the judgement within 90days. The Supreme Court had restated this in AKOMA & ANOR v. OSENWOKWU & ORS (2014) LPELR-22885(SC) when it held that “… a Court is mandated to deliver its judgment within 90 days after final addresses. This applies to both trial and Appellate Courts. There is no doubt that the delay in the delivery of the judgment by the Court below was inordinate and offends against Section 294 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Ordinarily, that will render such a judgment a nullity. See IFEZUE V. MBADUGHA (1984) 1 SCNLR 427. However, by Section 294 (5) of the said Constitution, delay alone will not lead to setting aside the judgment unless there is evidence of miscarriage of justice.”
Also, in DENNIS AKOMA & ANOR v. OBI OSENWOKWU & ORS (2014) LPELR-22885 the Court held, “The question is what is the consequence(s) of the failure of the lower Court, in the circumstances of this case, to deliver its decision within ninety days of the final addresses of counsel? The answer is that the judgment/decision/order so delivered is valid except an appellant can satisfy the Court that the non-delivery of the judgment within the stipulated time has occasioned a miscarriage of justice to him.” See also OWOYEMI v. ADEKOYA (2003) 18 NWLR (Pt. 852) 307. Is there sufficient proof that the Appellants in IDOWU & ORS v. SEGUN KOYA INVESTMENTS LTD (2017) LPELR-43580(CA) have suffered any miscarriage of justice for the noble Honourable Justice to order that the matter be heard afresh by another Judge?
In ELIAS v. FRN & ANOR (2016) LPELR-40797(CA) the Court opined that “The spirit behind the ninety-day period in Section 294(1) of the Constitution (supra) is to ensure that the decision of the Court is written and delivered when the facts of the case, the inference from the facts and the impression created by the witnesses are still fresh in the mind of the Judge.” It was therefore in the wisdom of the framers of our Constitution that a good evaluation may not be possible after 90 days because the judge may have forgotten or lost some impression he perceived during the hearing – after all, the judge is human. However, where the evidence relied on in a case is basically documentary, the facts and evidences adduced in a case is not affected and an evaluation can still be carried out. This is because, time lapse may not have a detrimental effect on the mind of the judge and an argument on miscarriage of justice may then be difficult to establish. See DENNIS AKOMA v. OBI OSENWOKWU & ORS (supra).
In the instant case of MORENIKE IDOWU & ORS v. SEGUN KOYA INVESTMENTS LTD, the Honourable Justice NIMPAR, JCA noted in reaching her decision, that there were several distortions of evidence occasioned by a loss of perception, appreciation and evaluation of the evidence adduced at the trial court as there were errors and discrepancies in the judgement delivered by the trial judge and the findings of the trial Court did not align with the evidence as adduced during trial. It was based on this reasoning that the Honourable Court per Nimpar J.C.A opined that a miscarriage of justice had arisen as the Court determined the claim on the wrong pleadings and the distortion of evidence could obviously read to the wrong conclusion.
From the evaluation of the judgement of the Court of Appeal, it is clear that the Court of Appeal has rehashed the provisions of section 294(1) and (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). This pronouncement of the Court should not therefore be treated with levity as it brings to the fore, the need for Courts – especially trial Courts, to imbibe the discipline of carrying out their judicial functions in line with the spirit and intent of the Constitution they have sworn to uphold.
Adeola Adeniyi is a Senior Associate at Kenna Partners. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org