Haruna Gyang & Anor V. Commissioner Of Police, Lagos State & Ors (2013)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
SULEIMAN GALADIMA, J.S.C.
This is an appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division delivered on the 8th of April, 2013, affirming the ruling of the trial Federal High Court, delivered on 22nd May, 2001.
On the 8th of November, 2000 the Appellants at the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos commenced an action by way of motion ex-parte for leave to apply for an order of certiorari seeking the following reliefs:
“(a) A DECLARATION that the proceedings tagged “CP’s Review” signed by one J.A. Alade, Force Provost Marshal, by which the Applicants were dismissed from the Nigeria Police Force, is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void, in that it breaches the Applicant’s right to fair hearing as enshrined in Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(b) AN ORDER of certiorari removing the proceedings tagged “CP’s Review” signed by one J. A. Alade, Force Provost Marshal. By which the Applicants were dismissed from the Nigeria Police Force, into this Honourable Court, for the purpose of quashing the said proceedings.
(c) AN ORDER quashing the proceedings tagged “CP’s Review” signed by one J. A. Alade, Force Provost Marshal, by which the Applicants were dismissed from the Nigeria Police Force.
(d) AN ORDER reinstating the Applicants to their ranks with all their full rights and entitlements as if they had not been dismissed.
The grounds upon which the reliefs were sought are”
“(a)That the Applicants and three other purported defaulters were earlier discharged and acquitted of a one-count charge of corrupt practice brought against them on the 2/04/99 in an orderly room at Mopol 2, Keffi Street, Lagos State.
(b). That the review panel headed by one J. A. Alade the Acting Commissioner of Police Provost Marshal, Force Headquarters (FHO Annex that reviewed the earlier proceedings and dismissed the Applicants from the Nigeria Police Force did not give the Applicants a right to represent themselves and be heard thereby denying the applicants their constitutional right to fair hearing
(c). That the Applicants are entitled to be returned to their original positions before their rights were denied them.”
Accompanying the application, is a Verifying Affidavit of 9 paragraphs sworn to by one of the Counsel in the chambers of the Applicants’ Solicitors. Three Exhibits were attached viz:
(a) Exhibit “A” – The proceedings and judgment of the Orderly Room Trial.
(b) Exhibit ‘B’ – The proceedings of the Review.
(c) Exhibit C – Letter of Appeal by the Applicants to the Appeal Department of the Inspector-General of Police.
In compliance with the Rules of this court parties filed and exchanged briefs of argument. At the hearing of this appeal on 30/9/2013, the Learned Counsel for the Appellants, Festus Keyamo Esq. adopted the Appellants’ brief filed on 18/4/2008. The Respondent’s brief dated 1/12/2008 and filed on 10/12/2008 would appear deemed filed on that date. It was adopted by the Chiesona I. Okpoko, Esq. of the Department of Civil Litigation and Public Law of the Federal Ministry of Justice.
The Appellants’ two issues formulated for determination read thus.
“(1) whether the Court of Appeal was right, in view of the provisions of Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution and the Rules of Natural Justice, when it held, in effect, that, since the Commissioner of Police only “Reviewed” the proceedings of the Orderly Room Trial before reaching a decision, the Commissioner of police was not bound to hear from the Appellants before he took the decision which adversely affected the Appellants:
(Grounds 1 and 2).
(2) Whether, from the Records, there existed concurrent findings of facts which the Court of Appeal needed to review and which it declined to do (Ground 3).”
The Respondent on the other hand formulated one issue for determination. It reads;
“Whether the Court below was right in dismissing the Appellants’ Appeal “.
The contention of the Appellants is that it was a denial of fair hearing of the allegation against them without being called upon to make representation, and that, this Court can interfere with the decisions of the two lower Courts because the question involved is not one of fact but of law. It is urged on this Court to set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal which dismissed the Appellants’ appeal.
Learned Counsel for the Respondent has submitted that the procedure adopted by the Appellant to challenge the Police Provost Marshal Review Report and Recommendation in Court was wrong as the action was not initiated by due process of law. That the Police Provost Marshal in conducting his review did not take any evidence or witness at all. All he did was to go through the proceedings of the investigation and recommendations of the Delegated Officer who conducted same. It is argued that the Investigation Report and Recommendation of the Delegated Officer, who actually conducted the proceedings at the Orderly Room Trial, was only referred to the Police Provost Marshal for review. It is contended that the action of the Police Provost Marshal, in his review report was administrative and not judicial or quasi judicial. Learned Counsel further contended that a prerogative writ procedure adopted by the Appellants is inappropriate to challenge the said report of the Police provost Marshal. Reliance was placed on the cases of ATTORNEY-GENERAL LAGOS STATE v. DOSUNMU (1989) 3 NWLR (pt.111) 552 at 567; NWOBOSHI v. MILITARY GOVERNOR DELTA STATE (2003) 3 NWLR (PT.831) 305 AT PP.317 -318 AND R v. DISTRICT OFFICER FOR KUTIA PEOPLE Exparte Eti Atem (1966) All NLR 51 at 56.
On the issue of whether or not the Police Provost Marshal by his review and recommendation, breached Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, Learned Counsel contended that the Appellants having commenced their action through a wrong procedure, and the trial court for that reason not having jurisdiction to entertain same, a fortiori, this court, as Appellate Court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate upon; more so that the courts below did not make any finding of fact whether the Appellant’s right of fair hearing was breached by the Review Report and the Recommendation, which was sought to be quashed.
My observation, in this matter, is that the first issue and the sole issue formulated by the Appellants and the Respondent, respectively, revolves round the applicability of Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In other wards whether the court below was right in view of the provisions of Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution and the Rules of Natural Justice, when it held that since the Commissioner of police only “reviewed” the proceedings of the Orderly Room Trial before reading a decision, the said Commissioner of police was nor bound to hear from the Appellants before he took the decision with imposition of a more severe punishment resulting in dismissal of the Appellants. It has long been settled in a line of cases decided by this court that administrative bodies or tribunals, acting judicially in the determination or imposition of a decision that is likely to affect the civil rights and obligations of a person, are bound and enjoined to strictly observe the principles of fair hearing. See R v. ELECTRICITY JOINT COMMISSION (1968) NMLR 102: ADEYEMI v. ATTORNEY-GENERAL FEDERATION (1984) 1 SCNLR p.525: ADIGUN. ATTORNEY-GENERAL OYO STATE & 18 ORS (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt.53) 682; OYEYEMI V. COM. FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT (1992) 2 NWLR (pt.226) 661 at 67 AKIBU v. ODUNTAN (2000) 13 NWLR (pt.685) p.446; STATE v. AJIE (2000) 11 NWLR (pt.678) 434 and AKANDE v. NIGERIAN ARMY (2001) 8 NWLR (pt.714) P.1.
This principle often expressed by the Latin Maxim “Audi Alteram Partem” meaning “hear the other side,” has been for long enshrined in our jurisprudence. These decisions deal with this general principle of natural justice. My careful study of each case makes it distinguishable from one another. For example, the case of ADIGUN v. ATTORNEY-GENERAL OYO STATE (Supra) is distinguishable and with due respect inapplicable in the consideration of this appeal. The complaint in that case is that before the “AGIRI COMMISSION” one party testified before the commission, whilst, the other party was not at all invited to testify to put their case before the Commission. This was a clear breach of the principle of fair hearing.
I have observed that from the affidavit evidence and the supporting statement; the Appellants are not complaining against the Orderly Room Trial. Their grouse against the CP’s Review is that they were not given an opportunity to be heard and that heavier punishment than that of the Orderly Room Trial was meted out to them. Thus the issue to be determined here is whether the conduct of the CP’s Review of the findings and decision of the Orderly Room Trial deprived the Applicants their fundamental right to fair hearing as guaranteed under Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution.
Needless going into the semantics of the word “Review.” It’s simplest definition is found in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 8th Edition. It is defined as follows: “an examination of something, with the intention of changing it, if necessary.” The purport of the CP’s Review is intended to re-examine administratively the decision of the Orderly Room Trial. On the relevance of the Exhibits ‘B,’ the Review proceedings conducted by one Mr. J. A. Alade CP, the Provost Marshal (FHQ), the Learned Trial Judge observed on page 78 of the Records of proceedings, as follows:
(1). No new evidence was adduced.
(2). No witnesses testified either for the prosecution or for the defence.
(3). In fact there was no trial:
(4). The Reviewer …merely reviewed the proceedings of the Orderly Room Trial.
In the same vein the reasoning of the court below was that the C.P did not go outside the totality of the evidence as reflected in the printed materials. On page 106, relying on the English authority of LORD v. MC MAHON (1987) AC 625, the court had this to say:
“Oral hearing was at the Orderly Room Trial, the Appellants never complained about that. It was the Review by the CP which is akin to an appeal that they are attempting to discredit, by contending that principles of fair hearing were not observed. I have had a careful study of the printed materials which constitute the CP’s Review they did not go outside the totality of the evidence led at the Orderly Room Trial. In reaching the conclusion the CP’s Review body had reasoned thus;
“Having painstakingly gone through the trial proceedings, I am convinced that the charge against the entire 1st to 5th defaulters has been convincingly forward (sic). This being strictly as to the squeezed N1,070.00 and N985.00 respectively by the 2nd and 5th defaulters. ”
It is the contention of the Appellants, as argued by their Counsel, that it would have been fair and just for the Appellants to have been given the benefit of the “printed materials” that were forwarded to CP for review, before a decision was taken, so as to be able to challenge same, if they so wished. Curious enough, B the Learned Counsel has equally placed reliance on the English decisions in LLORD case (supra) and that of R v. LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD Exparte ARLIDGE (1994) 1KB 160 and R v. IMMIGRATION APPEAL TRIBUNAL Exparte Jones (Ross) 1988 1 WLR. 477. With due respect to the Learned Counsel for the Appellants, who has made lengthy submissions on this point, but my humble understanding of the indepth study of the cases so much relied upon, hinges on the simple fact that an administrative body, acting in that capacity, has the option to decide whether to deal with the matter before it, by oral hearing or merely on written evidence, and argument provided. Dealing with an appeal on written or printed evidence or communications only, is not, in itself a breach of the principle of fair hearing. See R. v. LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD EXPARTE ARLIDGE (Supra) and STUART v. HAUGHLEY PAROCHIAL CHURCH COUNCIL (1936) CHD. 32.
It is not disputed that the CP Review panel has merely evaluated the oral evidence which has been accepted before the Orderly Room Trial.
In paragraph 4.15 of their Brief, Learned Counsel has submitted that the Court below has confused the case of the Appellants to mean that they were denied an oral hearing. Reference was made to page 107 of the Records. It is submitted that the Appellants are complaining about the denial of fair hearing, simpliciter, not “oral hearing.”
It is observed that the court below noted on page 102 of the Records that the Appellants formulated two issues from the sole ground of Appeal contained in their Notice of Appeal. Realising this mistake, their Learned Counsel sought and obtained the leave of that court to withdraw their issue 1 and arguments canvassed therefrom. Hence the court below only considered and determined the appeal on the second issue which essentially complained of denial of fair hearing.
In this court Appellant’s Notice of appeal contained 3 grounds of Appeal from which two issues were raised. The first is that it was a denial of fair hearing for the CP to take an adverse decision against the Appellants without calling on them to make representation before him. This issue is distilled from Grounds 1 and 2 of the Notice of Appeal. The Second issue is distilled from Ground 3 of the Notice of Appeal. Essentially this is on the decision of the court below not to interfere with the concurrent findings of facts which it thus declined to review.
From the foregoing it is crystal clear that the Appellants have consistently complained about denial of fair hearing simpliciter. Suffice it to say that the hearing at the Orderly Room Trial was “Oral.” I agree with the finding of the court that at the hearing, the Appellants never complained that they were denied of fair hearing. The court below therefore, after careful study of the printed materials, which constituted the Cp’s Review, concluded that he did not go outside the totality of evidence led at the Trial. I have earlier reproduced the Cp’s conclusion above.
The arguments and discourse of the Learned Counsel of the Appellants have only won him plaudits, but they are plausible, even in the face of his authorities and those of the Respondent’s Counsel. In the circumstance, Issue 1 is resolved in favour of the Respondent.
On the second issue, the court below found that the CP’s Review Panel has “evaluated” the Oral evidence which the Orderly Room Trial had used and carefully evaluated by the CP’s Review. The Learned Counsel for the Appellants has submitted that what was before the Court of Appeal (the court below) was not an appeal on facts but on point of law, to wit, that the CP, as a Reviewing authority ought to have heard from the Appellants before overturning the decision of the Orderly Room Trial.
The complaint of the Appellants (by their Ground one of the Notice of Appeal) was against the “Review” of findings and decisions of the Orderly Room Trial. Clearly the decision of the Orderly Room Trial and CP’s Review were based on facts placed before them. The Court of Appeal sat as an Appellate Court and held that it was not going to disturb or interfere with those finding of facts. Needless for me to dwell further on this point, strenuously canvassed by the Learned Counsel for the Appellants having resolved the first crucial issue against them.
I must however, before I conclude, observe that the Respondent’s brief did not help much in the resolution of this appeal. The sole issue was clearly intended to overreach or “ambush” the Appellants. The real issues canvassed by the Appellants were not properly addressed in the Respondent’s brief. However, in my view, from the foregoing, all the same, this appeal is devoid of merit and consequently, it is hereby dismissed. The decision of the court below is affirmed.