J. M. Kodilinye V. Mbanefo Odu (1935)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal
Claim for Declaration of Title to land—Question of Non-SuitOrder 39 Rule 1 Supreme Court Rules—Court will not on question of fact interfere with judgment of Trial Judge unless same is perverse or judicial discretion has not been properly exercised.
The facts of this case are sufficiently set out in the judgment.
0. Alakija (with him Montacute Thompson and A. Soetan) for Appellant.
C. TV. Clinton (with him A. Kayode) for Respondent. The following judgment was delivered :—
WEBBER, C.J., SIERRA LEONE.
This is an appeal from the decision of Mr. Justice Graham Paul, who gave judgment for the defendant representing the Onitshas in a case in which the appellant, the Head Chief and Eze of Obosi, sought a declaration of title to a piece or parcel of land known as the western portion of Anaisiowuru situate in the Onitsha Province.
The learned Judge in the Court below dealt exhaustively with all the aspects which a claim of this nature presents—after hearing both parties and their witnesses he delivered his final judgment. He had already dealt with the plea of res judicata raised at the initial stage of the case. In his judgment which is the subject of this appeal he deals first with the evidence generally criticising the evidence on both sides as conflicting anu somewhat confused. Then he dealt fully with the rival traditional stories and concluded that there was little to choose between the tw, versions. He proceeded onwards and dealt with the occupation cf the rival parties and finally he reviewed all the cases between the Onitshas and Obosi regarding the land in dispute.
Eleven grounds of appeal were filed. Five of these groumi deal with misdirection namely grounds 5, 6, 8, 9. and 10 and I ca:_ find no substance in any of them. In expressing the opinion f!- Major Leonard’s Book is unhelpful in assisting the Court to arr–11–÷ at a conclusion as to the first settlers on the land in dispute
Court cannot be said to be misdirecting himself nor is it a mis- J. M. direction to say that the Court is not satisfied that’ any of the KodilinYe plaintiff’s witnesses actually farmed on the land.
I also fail to see that the Court misdirected itself as to the od„. exact position of the 4th milestone. I agree with counsel for appellant that there was no justification for the conclusion arrived Webber, at by the learned Judge that the reason cases 1 213 of 1928 and 13 C.J.
of 1931 were struck out was because the evidence available was not sufficient for ‘counsel to file a statement of claim as ordered by the Court—this erroneous deduction does not in my opinion vitiate the finding of the Court. As to ground 1 that the plaintiffs were prejudiced by the refusal of the Court to allow the application of the plaintiff that the Obi or King of Onitsha or his representative be joined as a co-defendant I can only say in answer that the plaintiffs were not at all prejudiced. For seventeen years litigation about this land was carried on and no thought of adding the Obi of Onitsha was conceived by the parties. The plaintiff could have made the Obi a co-defendant before issuing his writ. The learned Judge in my opinion was correct in disallowing the application.
The remaining grounds embrace the questions (a) as to whether the judgment should have been one of non-suit, and (b) as to the weight of evidences. Grounds 3 and 4 deal with the question of non-suit.
The Court having arrived at the decision that the evidence adduced both for the plaintiff and defendant ” was conflicting and somewhat confused ” should have non-suited the plaintiffs instead of giving judgment for the defendants.
(4) That the Court erred in law in giving judgment for the–defendaks – when the Court was satisfied in its mind that there was little to choose between the rival traditional stories as advanced by the plaintiffs and as related by the defendants.
Jpitellants counsel refers us to Order 39 rule 1 of Supreme Court Rules which reads as follows : —
” The Court may in any suit, without the consent of the parties, non-suit the plaintiff where satisfactory evidence shall not be given entitling either the plaintiff or defendant to the judgment of the Court “.
I do not think. that this rule should be applied in this case which seeks for a declaration of title. The (mats lies on the
|satisfy the Court that
|he is entitled on the evidence
|brought try c;,seD,,r
|‘thetaintitYin0,rice andnot ontile
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the weakili’S!,, 17′4‘ the de4endat.11,4 cast’nol heln hint and the
jgo,rduclowent, is for the defendant. ..S.Luil_a judgment decrees no title to the jlefend:ii1.Fic, not having, sought the declaration–. wholeev;i4.-e’C4se biLeonmetipm
confus.e,d,and tb!,re…11 ta_chouie brjAvePti.,the…rix.e_tuditio.nal
stor.j.,s the_plui iiY fathe dee ree.J.te_seeks„ ap &judgment_ ijiust
he entered for the defendantl
As to the weight of evidence ground 11 with which may be added grounds 2 and 7, the principle has long been established that the Appeal Court will not interfere with the verdict of the Judge below unless such verdict is shown to be perverse or not the result of a proper exercise of his judicial discretion. That has not in my opinion been done in this case. It was for the learned Judge to select the witness whom he thought worthy of credit—he mar-have•eonsidered and obviously did consider the other witnesses inconclusive and there being conflicting evidence he came to the conclusion that the evidence as to ownership had not been proved or had not been proved under circumstances- which resulted in establishing ownership. In his judgment on the plea of res judicata the learned Judge stated that’ the effect of a long series of cases will make it extremely difficult for the plaintiff to convince a Court of the bona fides of his claim.
This obiter dictin,, was animadverted upon by counsel for the appellant in his address and he raised the question of the propriety of the Judge hearing the ease on the merits, seeing that the learned nudge had at that early stage of the proceedings expressed a doubt as to the bona fides of the claim.
The judgment on the plea of res judieata was delivered in March, 1934, awl the case was then adjourned. It came before the same Judge at the Assizes held in September, 1934, and no objection was raised to the same judge’s sitting and continuing the case to its conclusion. 1 cannot bring myself to believe that this obiter dictum expressed by the Judge in March had any effect on the Judge’s mind in September when he proceeded with the case.
The care and exhaustive hearing given to both parties during the whole of the proc’e’eding’ and the weighing of the pros and cons in the evidence given by them convince me that the parties were given a fair and impartial hearing throughout.
I think this appeal should be dismissed with costs. KINGDON, C.J., NIGERIA.