Anamelechi Iteogu V. Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (2018)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
AMIRU SANUSI, J.S.C.
The appellant, who is now applicant filed a motion on notice on 20th of August 2014 seeking an order of this Court which he couched as below:-
An order of this Honorable Court setting aside the Judgment of this Honorable Court dated 4th December 2009 made by their lordships, ALLOYSIUS IYORGYER KASINA ALU JSC (as he then was), MAHMUD MOHAMMED JSC, WALTER NKANU ONNOGHEN JSC; CHRISTOPHER MITCHEL J; CHUKWUMA ENEH JSC (as he then was) and MUHAMMED SAIFULLHI MUNTAKH COOMASSI JSC, reported as ANAMELECHI ITEOGU vs LPDC (2009) 17 NWLR (Pt 117) 614.
The motion had three other prayers which the learned counsel for the applicant chose to withdraw and same were thereupon struck out, leaving the above prayer only for this Court’s determination.
The motion was brought pursuant to Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act, Cap S.15 Laws of the Federation 2004; Order 3 Rule 15 and Order 8, Rule 16 of the Supreme Court Rules 2011 and under the inherent jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The grounds upon which the application was brought include the followings:-
(a) The Appeal was from a decision of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee of the Supreme Court.
(b) The Supreme Court entertained the Appeal and delivered its Judgment on 4th December, 2009.
(c) The Supreme Court has no Jurisdiction to entertain an appeal from the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee as decided by the Court in the underlisted cases.
(i) ALADEJOBI vs NIGERIA BAR ASSOCIATION (2013) 15 NWLR (pt.1376) 66 and
(ii) ROTIMI WILLIAMS AKINTOKUN Vs LPDC (Unreported Suit SC 111/2014 delivered on 16th May 2014
(d) In the circumstances the Judgment of this Court dated 4th December, 2009 was entered without Jurisdiction and the Appellant/Applicant affected by the Judgment is ex debito justiciae entitled to apply to set aside the said Judgment.
(e) Given the length of time between the delivery of the said judgment and the application, it is necessary ex abundant cautela to seek leave of Court and extension of time to bring the application.
The applicant supported his application with a twenty one paragraph affidavit. He also annexed the underlisted exhibit:-
(i) A Written Address in support of the motion dated
(ii) Certified true copy of the judgment of this Court delivered on 4th day of December, 2009, and
(iii) A photo-copy of a receipt for the production of the said judgment.
The appellant/applicant had also on 4/10/17 filed an Appellant/Applicants Reply Brief in response to the respondents Reply Address to the motion on notice.
On its part, the respondent filed a counter affidavit of nine (9) paragraphs dated 18th April 2017 in opposition to the motion under consideration. He also filed a written Brief on 10/5/2017 in opposing the applicant’s application
As I stated supra, the Appellant/Applicant had earlier withdrawn the three prayers in this motion, thus leaving only one prayer which has to do with seeking the indulgence of this Court to set aside the Judgment it had earlier delivered on 4th day of December, 2009 in appeal No SC 190/2016 in the case of Anamelechi Iteogu Esq., vs The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee now reported in (2009) 17 NWLR (pt 117) 614.
When arguing the motion before us on 4/12/2017, the parties adopted their Written Addresses. It was
submitted by the learned applicant’s counsel, that the only extant issue for determination is simply thus:-
Whether this Honorable Court should set aside its judgment in this case.
The appellant/applicant argued that this Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeal as at the time the case was decided. He referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Nwodike v. LPDC (2005) ALL FWLR (pt. 266) 1176 and ALADEJOBI v. NIGERIA BAR ASSOCIATION (2013) 15 NWLR (pt. 1376) 66, where it was held that appeal from LPDC ought to go first before the Appeal Committee of the Body of Benchers. He therefore submitted that as at 2009 when the Supreme Court delivered judgment in this appeal, it had no Jurisdiction to do so. He then urged this Court to resolve this issue in favour of the Appellant/Applicant
In his response, the learned counsel for the respondent submitted that he was not unmindful of the inherent Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to set aside its own decision in very limited circumstances, particularly where the said Judgment is a nullity.
He argued that the learned counsel to the Applicant appears to have misunderstood and misconceived the
scope of the exercise of the inherent Jurisdiction of the Court to set aside its own decision ex debite Justitia. He cited the case of AMALGAMATED TRUSTEES LIMITED V ASSOCIATED DISCOUNT HOUSE LTD (2007) 15 NWLR (PT.1056) page 126-127.
He contended that if the application is granted, it will certainly open a flood gate to already decided cases by the Supreme Court with litigants challenging the decisions of the Supreme Court under the guise of reviewing the Judgments under the Slip Rule. He urged this Court to dismiss the application in its entirety, as it is not justiciable to reopen already concluded issues relating to the Judgment of the Court dated 4th December, 2009.
My lords, before going into the merit or otherwise of this application, it will not be out of place, to give brief facts which gave rise to the present application. In the year 2006, the Nigerian Bar Association lodged a complaint to the respondent herein, against the present applicant, accusing him of professional misconduct. The respondent (hereinafter) referred to as (the Committee) gave its direction on 7/6/2006 which the appellant/applicant,
a legal practitioner was found liable of professional misconduct contrary to Rules 24 and 49 (a) and (b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession, punishable under Section 12 of Legal Practitioners Act, Cap 207, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2015 (as amended). Thereupon, the appellant was ordered to pay a sum of N9,500,000 (Nine Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira only) to his client one Bishop Ndarake James Antigha who had earlier petitioned against the appellant/applicant. It was also ordered that the appellants name should be struck off the Roll of legal practitioners.
Piqued by the decision of the Committee, the appellant herein, appealed to the Supreme Court and this Court on 4th December, 2009 dismissed the appeal and affirmed the decision of the Committee.
By the present motion, the appellant/applicant is now challenging this Courts judgment delivered on 4th December, 2009 which was reported as ANAMELECHI ITEOGU vs LEGAL PRACTITIONERS DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE (2009) 17 NWLR (PT.117) 614 on the simple ground that the judgment was given by the Court without jurisdiction. The appellant/applicant by
his sole prayer is now seeking the order of this Court to set aside that judgment which was delivered by this Court on 4th December 2009 because according to him, this Court lacked jurisdiction when it delivered the judgment under references. It is worthy of note that when the appellant, now applicant, presented his appeal before this Court the issue of jurisdiction was never raised. I am not unmindful of the fact that issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any time even before the Supreme Court, but to my mind that issue of jurisdiction can only be raised during the pendency of the relevant proceedings and certainly not some years after the Court had already delivered its judgment and parties disputes were settled or determined or their fates were decided. It is an elementary principle of Law that once a Court delivers its judgment, in a given case, it thereupon becomes functus officio and can therefore not reopen it in whatever guise, except of course, in the event that there was circumstance where the doctrine of SLIP RULE applies or to correct mistake. That notwithstanding
however, a Court can set aside its own judgment only in exceptional circumstances or conditions which I will furnish presently in this ruling. Even then, the discretion of Court to set aside its earlier judgment must always be exercised judiciously and judicially and must also be applied sparingly to void causing injustice or to breach public interest or possible public uproar. This Court also lacks the jurisdiction to review its earlier decision or judgment. Once decisions or judgments have been delivered by this Court, such decision has air or force of finality and can not be appealed against or reviewed by it except in the exceptional circumstances I will explain below.
It is evident from the facts and circumstance of this application as I posited above, that the applicant herein filed this instant application seeking the indulgence of this Court to set aside the judgment it had since delivered on 4th of December, 2009 in the case of ANAMELECHI ITEOGU vs LEGAL PRACTITIONERS DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE, now reported in (2009)17 NWLR (pt.117) 614 for want of jurisdiction. There is no gain to say that when arguing that appeal before this Court, the applicant did not raise issue of jurisdiction before this Court for it to decide.
Admittedly, this Court had earlier in the cases of Rotimi Williams Akintokun vs LPDC, Appeal No. SC 11/2006 now reported in (2014) LPELR 22941 (SC) and the case of ALADEJOBI Vs NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (2013) 15 NWLR (Pt.1376), had departed from its earlier decision in ANAMELECHI’s case (supra) wherein, it held that this Court had jurisdiction to entertain appeal directly from the decision of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (respondent) without same routing through its Appeal Committee.
There is no doubt that Honourable justices of this Court are human beings and therefore not infallible. They can make mistakes or commit errors at any time like any other mortals. That is why the law allows for correction of errors in its judgment when called upon so to do, for instance, in SLIP RULE or PENCIL RULE. In other words, in deserved situation or circumstances, this Court when invited, can revisit the judgment it delivered earlier or previously, if such judgments are seen not to be in accord with desired justice by setting same aside, or varying same or even overruling such judgment.
See Order 8 Rule 16 of Supreme Court Rules 1985. I must however stress here that generally, once a Court delivers its judgment, it becomes functus. It goes without saying therefore that in the exercise of setting aside of its previous judgment, this Court and indeed every other Court must do so only in the interest of justice which is indeed the preoccupation of all Courts. The Courts when faced with an application to set aside it own judgment, it must guard against possible instability crippling into the corpus of our laws. In fact, this Court in plethora of its decided authorities had set out some conditions which must be considered to have existed in the previous judgment sought to be set aside and these conditions include the followings:
(a) That the previous judgment was given per incuriam, or
(b) That the judgment was erroneous in law; or
(c) That the previous judgment is contrary to public policy or is occasioning miscarriage of justice or perpetuating injustice.
See AG Federation v GUARDIAN NEWS PAPER LTD (1999) 9 NWLR (pt.618)187; AMINU TANKO v THE STATE LPELR 3136 (SC); (2009) 14 WRN 1; (2009)1 NWLR (pt 1131) 430.
As I highlighted above, judgments of this Court are
delivered with air of finality and can not be reviewed, varied or set aside except on the conditions I highlighted above. The consideration made by this Court in deciding the cases of Akintokun v. LPDC (supra) and Aladejobi v. LPDC (supra) relied on by the applicant had admitted been a departure by this Court of its earliest stance on its jurisdiction, contrary to its earlier position in Anamelechis case. To my mind, if this Court grants the order of setting aside its earlier judgment as sought in this instant application, it will open a flood gate for litigants with similar complaints or grouse to be greeting this Court with multiplicity of applications or suits which may in the long run open a chain of reactions the consequence of which nobody can foretell. In the case of Adegoke Motors Ltd vs Adesanya & Anor (1989) 3 NWLR (pt.109) 250; Oputa JSC at page 274 stated that:-
We are final not because we are infallible, rather we are infallible because we are final.”
Again, by the provisions of Order 2 Rule 29 (1) of the Supreme Court Rules this Court shall only entertain application to set aside its judgment if only such application for setting aside is brought before it within a
reasonable time. The instant application is seeking the setting aside of a decision delivered by this Court more than eight years ago. Such period can not be regarded as a reasonable time from which ever angle one looks at it. It will be rather absurd to indulge the applicant’s requests which in my view, is brought at the 28th hour of the day.
Having stated the above, I see no basis for me to invoke the provisions of Order 6 Rule 5 (4) of the Supreme Court Rules to set aside the earlier decision given by this Court on 4th December, 2009 in Anamelechi Iteogu Esq., v LPDC reprinted in (2009) 17 NWLR (Pt 117) 614.
As a corollary, I adjudge this application unmeritorious and it is therefore hereby refused and accordingly dismissed by me.