A Court of Appeal ruling in Jos chastised an appellant’s lawyer for what it termed as an attempt to “mislead” the Courts by relying on conflicting decisions, noting that the decision cited “rather damns his contention.”
In an appeal case before the Court of Appeal, Jos Judicial Division with APPEAL NO CA/J/40C/2018 between, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu Usman Solid Unit Nigeria Ltd v. Federal Republic of Nigeria, wherein the appellants dissatisfied with the interlocutory ruling of the lower court instituted the appeal.
At the lower court, the appellants were arraigned before the lower Court on a two count charge of conspiracy to obtain money by false pretences and for obtaining the sum of N23.431 Million by false pretences. Sequel to their arraignment, Counsel to the Appellants filed a motion on notice seeking to quash the charge. However, the motion and reply were not heard before the case was resigned to another Lower Court. When the matter came up at the lower court for reassignment, the appellants were absent from Court and similar thing happened at the next adjourned date wherein the Counsel for the appellant provided a medical report claiming the 1st appellant to be seek and sought leave of court to be allowed to move the motion seeking to quash the charge in the absence of the Appellants. The lower court refused the leave, and went on to order that the appellants be present at the next adjourned date.
The Appellants were dissatisfied with this directive of the lower Court and they caused their Counsel to file a notice of appeal. At the hearing of the appeal, the Court asked Counsel to the Appellants if he obtained the leave of either the lower Court or this Court before filing the appeal and Counsel replied in the negative. The Court further inquired from Counsel to the Appellants if he did not think that he required leave to file the appeal and Counsel again replied in the negative saying that the grounds of appeal were grounds of law alone.
Addressing this, the Court per Habeeb Adewale OLumuyira Abiru, JCA held that is trite that an appeal may be on ground of facts alone or on ground of law alone or on ground of mixed law and facts. By the provisions of section 241 (1) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution a party can appeal to the Court of Appeal as of right only where the decision appealed against is a final decision or where the grounds of appeal involves question of law alone. In any other situation, section 242 of the Constitution says that the party must only appeal with leave of either the High Court or the Court of Appeal. The ordinary meaning of these provisions is that where an appeal is from an interlocutory decision of the High Court and the ground of appeal is not on law alone, a party must obtain the leave of either the High Court or of the Court of Appeal for the appeal to be competent.
The notice of appeal was brought on three grounds. However, the Court of Appeal held only the first two grounds as viable appeal. As such, the third issue hinged on the 3rd ground of appeal was dismissed by the Court.
The other two issues for determination read thus:
1. Whether the learned trial Judge is right in law when he refused to hear the Appellants’ application dated the 19th of August, 2016 to quash the charges against the accused persons which application is challenging the jurisdiction of the court owing to the circumstances of this case.
2. Whether the refusal of the learned trial Judge to follow the Court of appeal decisions in Alintah Vs FRN (2008) All FWLR (Pt 436) 2009 and Ezeze Vs The State (2005) All FWLR (Pt 255) 1195 does not negate the principle of judicial precedent and occasioned a miscarriage of justice on the Appellants.
In arguing the first issue, the Appellants counsel stated that the trial Court was in error when it failed to determine the issue of jurisdiction raised in the motion dated the 19th of August, 2016 and that its holding that the accused person be brought in whatever manner before the Court could determine whether or not to dispense with his presence is an abruption of the law which occasioned a miscarriage of justice. On issue two, he again referred to and quoted from the decisions of this Court in Alintah Vs FRN (2008) All FWLR (Pt 436) 2009 and Ezeze Vs The State (2005) All FWLR (Pt 255) 1195 and he stated that the lower Court did not determine the question whether the presence of an accused person can be dispensed with because there is an application before the Court challenging the jurisdiction of the court and seeking to quash the charge. On their part, the respondent counsel stated that the reliance placed by Counsel to the Appellants in this appeal on the decision of this Court in Alintah Vs FRN supra was completely misplaced. On the Appellants’ second issue for determination, Counsel stated that it is settled law that a case is only authority for what it decided and nothing more.
Ruling on the appeal, Habeeb Adewale OLumuyira Abiru, JCA ruled thus:” This Court must say from the onset that this appeal is one of the most misguided appeals, and perhaps one of the most irresponsible use and abuse of the appellate Court process, that this Court has seen in a long while. Counsel to the Appellants predicated the appeal on a conjured up, non-existent, scenario, manipulated and misrepresented decided decisions of this Court to support the non-existent scenario and then presented same to this Court to resolve.”
According to the Court, the lower Court did not refuse to hear the application to quash the charge without the necessity of the presence of the Appellant, but rather demanded and rightly so, for an explanation for absence of the Appellants from Court on the date fixed for definite arraignment and when it saw that explanation offered by the medical report presented was inadequate.
In addition it was the holding of the Court that: “One of the most elementary and rudimentary of the principles of judicial precedent is that it recognizes that decisions of court draw their inspiration and strength from the facts which framed the issues for decision and once such decisions are made they control future judgment in like or similar cases, hence the facts of two cases must either be the same or at least similar before a decision in the earlier case can be used in a later case”
The Court also reiterated the working of judicial precedents thus: “The doctrine of judicial precedent postulates that what is binding on a lower court in the decision of a higher court is the principle or principles decided and not the rules and that if the facts and circumstances which framed the principle decided are similar to or same with the facts and circumstances of the case before the lower court, the lower court has no choice but to follow the principle decided. Where, however, the facts and circumstances in both cases are not similar or the same, the inferior court is not bound by the principle decided in the case before the higher court ”
Furthermore, His Lordship ruled that Counsel for the Appellants completely misrepresented the decision of the Court in the of Alintah Vs Federal Republic of Nigeria and he quoted portions of it out of context.
“The question is – how does the decision of this Court in Alintah Vs Federal Republic of Nigeria supra support the contention of Counsel to Appellants? The decision rather damns his contention. One of the worst sins that a Counsel can commit is to manipulate, to misrepresent and to lie against the decision of a Court. It is unethical conduct and a condemnable act” the Court held.
His Lordship further reiterated that it was the duty of a lawyer to pursue justice and not mislead the Court. “Counsel to the Appellants twisted the facts of case and misrepresented decided case law authorities to suit his purpose and completely abdicated his responsibility to the cause of truth and justice in his conduct of this appeal. This Court will hesitate in reporting the Counsel to the appropriate disciplinary organ of his professional body at this time. It is hoped that Counsel will adjust his actions to accord with the expected ethics of the Bar.” His Lordship ruled.
The Court in conclusion ruled thus: “the appeal is downright frivolous, vexatious and totally lacking in merit. The appeal is hereby dismissed. The decision contained in the Ruling of the High Court of Plateau State delivered in Suit No PLD/J103C/2016 by Honorable Justice D. D. Longi on the 16th of January, 2018 is affirmed.”
Gyang Zi with Y. L. Ayuba, H. A. Dongo & N. I. Williams for the Appellants. Benjamin Manji, Legal Officer with EFCC for the Respondent.