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Commissioner Of Lands V. John Saint Mathew Daniel (1939) LJR-WACA

Commissioner Of Lands V. John Saint Mathew Daniel (1939)

LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal

Section 10 of Public Lands Acquisition .Ordinance. Compensation payable in respect of property acquired by Government—Compensation fixed by the trial Judge lower than that offered by the Government-10 per cent added for compulsory purchase.

Held : (1) That it was always open to the Court to fix compensation at a figure lower than that offered by Government.

  1. That there was no authority in the Public Lands Acquisition Ordinance for a 10 per cent addition to the assessed value for compulsory purchase and that any such addition was gratuitous.
  2. That the trial Judge had erred in disregarding the evidence of three witnesses called by plaintiff as to the present value of the premises in favour of the evidence of a witness who spoke only to its value ten years ago.

Appeal allowed and compensation assessed at £1,148.

The facts are sufficiently set forth in the judgments.

L. B. Agusto for Defendant-Appellant.

C. N. S. Pollard for Plaintiff-Respondent. The following judgments were delivered.

BUTLER LLOYD, AG. C J., NIGERIA.

This is an appeal against a decision of the Supreme. Court on a summons taken out under section 10 of the Public Lands Acquisition Ordinance (Cap. 88) to determine the compensation payable in respect of the property known as No. I Brown Street, Lagos, which is being acquired by Government.

The final offer of Government was £1,148. The learned trial Judge assessed the compensation to be given to the defendant at £866 5s.

The grounds of appeal are that :-

  1. the trial Judge was wrong in disregarding the evidence called by the plaintiff himself to show that the figure of £1,148 offered by him was a reasonable one ;
  2. it was not open to him to award less than the sum offered, viz., £1,148 ;
  3. the trial Judge was wrong in not adhering to the well established practice of adding 10 per cent for compulsory acquisition.
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Counsel for the Appellant contended that as the final offer made by Government was £1,148, that sum should have been the lowest assessment awarded by the Court ; he relied on section 19

of the Ordinance which says that where the sum awarded does not exceed the sum offered (and no lower sum can be awarded) such person shall pay the costs. This section relates to costs only and in no way controls section 15 ; it is in the opinion of this Court always open to the trial Judge to assess the compensation at a lower figure than the amount offered.

It was next argued that the Commissioner of Lands produced expert witnesses to the value of the property and the Court threw the whole of this evidence overboard and preferred an arbitrary figure taken from the evidence of the Bank witness who was not an expert in the particular matter before the Court and whose estimate was based on an inadequately assessed value of some years before ; also that the trial Judge did not distinguish between the buildings and the land. Counsel further claimed that the 10 per cent addition on the assessed value which it has been (and still is) the practice to make was compulsory. With regard to this we say that the practice has no authority in the Public Lands Acquisition Ordinance and any such payment is gratuitous.

We have nothing to add to what was said in the judgment in Commissioner of Lands v. E. F. A. Adeleye* that ” an allowance for compulsory purchase is not recognised by the Ordinance and cannot be claimed as a right,” and agree with the reasons set out in that judgment.

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The learned Counsel for the Respondent argued that there was evidence (especially that of the Bank Manager Mr. Oliver) as to the value of the property which was accepted by the Court below in preference to that of the expert witnesses called for the plaintiff. He referred to the text books as to the unreliability of the evidence of expert witnesses, drew particular attention to the freak nature of the buildings (in which he seeks to discredit his own witnesses) which precluded the application of any rule of thumb method and quoted cases purporting to support his contention that the Court is not bound to act on the evidence of experts, or on the evidence of an offer and the Appeal Court is not entitled to upset the finding of the Court below where it is based on some direct evidence.

We cannot agree that these cases are on all fours with the present one or that in the particular circumstances in this case the Court below was justified in entirely disregarding the evidence of the witnesses called for the plaintiff to show the value of the property, all of which approximated to the amount of the Commissioner’s offer, and substituting therefor a value assessed on the peculiar conditions existing in 1924, and the special circumstances in which the Bank then assessed the consideration.

Section 15 says that the Court shall assess the compensation according to what it shall find to have been the value at the time the notices were served.

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In this case it preferred such evidence as that of the Bank Manager to the evidence of the experts called by the plaintiff.

We think however that the learned trial Judge was wrong in disregarding the evidence of the three witnesses called by plaintiff as to the value of the premises to-day in favour of that of a witness who spoke only to its value more than 10 years ago.

The lowest figure given by any of these witnesses was that given by Mr. Waide himself a Government expert, namely £850 for the building alone and £194 16s. for the land a total of £1,044 16s. and the others gave figures somewhat higher.

We think that on the evidence before him the learned trial Judge ought to have come to the conclusion that the figure offered by Government was a reasonable one and fully represented the value of the premises at the time of the acquisition and that he should have assessed the compensation at that figure namely £1,148.

The appeal must be allowed and the judgment varied accordingly.

STROTHER-STEWART, ACTING C.J., GOLD COAST. I concur.

BROOKE, J.

I concur.

The Court added :-

We consider that we are bound by the terms of section 19 and that this appeal must be held to come within the meaning of the words ” all proceedings, etc.”


We therefore award the respondent costs assessed at fifteen guineas.

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