Florence Ibilola Taylor V. The Trustees Of The Trinity Methodist Church (1986)
LawGlobal-Hub Lead Judgment Report
In order to appreciate this decision, some background information is necessary. The point being taken here is that the judgment of the High Court of Lagos State (Johnson J, as he then was) was delivered more than three months after final addresses by counsel and after judgment had been reserved. Page 64 of the record shows that on 22/8/79 before the coming into force of the 1979 Constitution this matter was adjourned to 31/10/79 for judgment after counsel had addressed the Court.
This appeal might not have come into being if the Court had delivered judgment on 31/10/79. It did not, and no explanation is available for its not having done so. Now Section 258(1) of the 1979 Constitution makes it mandatory for any Court established under the Constitution such as the Court with which this case is concerned to deliver its judgment not later than 3 months after final addresses.
Thus if we were to assume, as we are bound to, that final addresses were delivered on 1st October, 1979, it would have been obligatory for the Court to deliver judgment in this matter not later than 3 months – i.e. – 1st January, 1980. See Ifezue v. Mbadugha. However, and inexplicably, the decision in this case was not given until 28th March, 1980, more than two months beyond the period prescribed under Section 258(1) of the Constitution. A judgment delivered under such circumstances is clearly a nullity and I hereby formally declare it as null and void.
Accordingly the decision rendered by the High Court in this matter on 28/3/80 is hereby declared a nullity as also the decision of the Court of Appeal in this matter. This appeal therefore succeeds and it is allowed. All the two judgments in this matter are hereby declared null and void. This action is remitted to the High Court of Lagos State for a new trial before another Judge of that State. N300 costs allowed the appellant against the respondents.
The Chief Judge of Lagos State is enjoined to arrange an expeditious rehearing of the case. All costs awarded by the High Court and the Court of Appeal are hereby set aside.
OBASEKI, J.S.C.: The only point raised in this appeal from the Court of Appeal is a constitutional one which goes to the jurisdiction of the High Court, Ademola Johnson, J. (as he then was) to deliver its judgment on the 28th day of March, 1980 which judgment went on appeal to the Court of Appeal. The facts of the course of the case are that final addresses were delivered on the 22nd August, 1979. Thereafter, the Court adjourned the case to 31st October, 1979 for judgment. On the 1st of October, 1979, the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria came into force. The High Court became a Court established by the Constitution. By Section 258(1) of the Constitution, it is enjoined to deliver its judgment not later than 3 months from the conclusion of the evidence and final addresses.
The learned trial Judge then had 3 months from 1st of October, 1979 in which to deliver his judgment in the case. See Olowu v. Olowu SC.101/1984 of 15/4/85. But instead of delivering its judgment on the 31st day of October, 1979 to which it had been adjourned, he delivered it on the 28th day of March, 1980 a period of almost 6 months from the 1st day of October, 1979. This Court has held that a judgment delivered in contravention of Section 258(1) is a nullity. See Ifezue v. Mbadugha (1984) 5 S.C. 79 and Paul Odi v. Osafile (1985) 1 N.W.L.R. 17.
The judgment delivered by Ademola Johnson, J. on the 28th day of March, 1980 was therefore a nullity. Being a nullity, the appeal from the judgment to the Court of Appeal together with the judgment of the Court of Appeal on it dated 24/4/84 are also all nullities. They are not saved by Decree No. 17 of 1985 Constitution (Suspension & Modification) (Amendment) Decree 1985. The appeal therefore succeeds and is hereby allowed. The judgment of the Court of Appeal dated 24/4/84 and the judgment of the High Court dated 28/3/80 are hereby set aside. The costs awarded in the High Court and the Court of Appeal are also set aside.
The case will be and is hereby remitted to the High Court of Lagos State for hearing de novo before another Judge.
The appellant will be and is entitled to costs in this Court fixed at N300.00.
ANIAGOLU, J.S.C.: I agree that on the principle of Ifezue v. Mbadugha (1984) 5 S.C. 79 this appeal should be allowed and that the judgment of 28th March 1980 be, and is hereby, declared invalid, being null and void. The final addresses before the High Court were delivered on 22nd August 1979, when the case was adjourned to 31st October 1979 for judgment. On that day no judgment was delivered and there is nothing on the record to show why judgment was not delivered.
However, the judgment was later delivered by the Judge on 28th March 1980. I would prefer to base my judgment on the fact that the judgment which was supposed to be delivered on 31st October 1979 but was not delivered, did not of its own accord, jump to 28th March 1980. Impliedly, the trial Judge adjourned the judgment further to 28th March 1980.
This act of further adjourning the judgment to 28th March 1980 was, in my view, an exercise of a power granted under 1979 Constitution. By this further adjournment, he had further adjourned the delivery of the judgment for a period of almost six months from 31st October 1979, in clear breach of Section 258(1) of the Constitution.
By this line of reasoning I have avoided pronouncing on whether the Constitution ipso facto automatically abridged, by its Section 258(1), the period within which the trial Judge could have delivered the judgment had the adjournment been from 22nd August 1979 to 28th March 1980. I prefer to hold that the Judge impliedly re-adjourned the case for judgment on 28th March 1980 for a period of almost six months more than 3 months provided for in the Constitution, and therefore in breach of the Constitution.
Had the learned trial Judge adjourned the judgment on 22nd August 1979, when the 1979 Constitution was not in force and therefore the 3 months limitation not in operation, to 28th March 1980, I would have been quite hesitant in ruling that the coming into force of the 1979 Constitution on 1st October 1979 would have adversely affected that adjournment, which, as matters stood as at 22nd August 1979, was a judicial act exercised by the trial Judge under the then 1963 Constitution which was then in force. The judgments of the two Courts below are hereby set aside.
I abide by the order for costs as provided for in the judgment of my Lord, the Chief Justice.