Monsurat Lawal & Ors Vs Senior Magistrate Grade Mr. B. O. Quadri Of Magistrate Court Of Ibadan & Ors (2013)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
MAHMUD MOHAMMED, JSC
This appeal is against the judgment of the Court of Appeal Ibadan delivered on 1st July, 2003 in which that Court dismissed the Appellants appeal against the Ruling of the High Court of Justice of Oyo State Ibadan dismissing the Appellants application for an order of certiorari to quash their conviction and sentence by the 1st Respondent/Respondent Senior Magistrate Court 4 Ibadan for the offences of conspiracy, malicious damages and causing grievous Bodily Harm. PAGE| 2 From the record of appeal particularly the proceedings at the trial Senior Magistrate Court where the Appellants were tried and convicted, it is clear that the judgment of the trial Court was delivered about 10 months after the addresses of the learned Counsel. It is not disputed from the record that the jurisdiction of the trial Court. The main contention between the parties in this appeal therefore is whether or not the High Court and the Court of Appeal were right in their decisions that the reliefs sought by the Appellants in their application for an order of certiorari to quash the entire proceedings of the trial Magistrate Court resulting in their conviction, were not available to the Appellants in the circumstances of this case. In the Appellants brief of argument, the following two issues for the determination of this appeal were formulated from the 4 grounds of appeal filed on behalf of the Appellants. ‘(1) Whether the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right in law in holding that criminal trial conducted in the absence of an accused person cannot be quashed by order of certiorari (Grounds 1 of Notice of Appeal). (2) Whether the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right in upholding the decision of trial Court that appeal rather than an order of certiorari should be called in aid by the Appellants to challenge the decision of the 1st Respondent. (Grounds 2 – 4 of the Notice of Appeal)’ In the Respondents brief of argument however, their learned Counsel distilled only one issue from the 4 grounds of appeal filed by the Appellants. That issue reads – ‘Whether the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were not right to have unanimously held that the Appellants ought to have challenged the proceedings and judgment of the 1st Respondent by way of appeal rather than by prerogative writ of certiorari?’ Although two issues for determination have been framed by the Appellants from the 4 grounds of appeal contained in their Notice of Appeal, the common factor in the two issues as shown in the Appellants brief is the possibility or otherwise of challenging of the decision of the 1st Respondent by an order of certiorari. This in my view makes the issue as identified in the Respondents brief of argument as the only real issue for determination in this appeal. For the Appellants, their learned Counsel after quoting from the judgment of the Court below that – ‘A complaint on the delivery of judgment in the absence of the 3rd accused is PAGE| 3 better lodged as a ground of appeal to set aside the judgment not to quash the judgment in certiorari,’ submitted that the principles of law governing when an order of certiorari will issue to quash judgment of an inferior Court or Tribunal which that Court correctly stated in its judgment. That order may be made, argued the learned Counsel where – (i) it is established by evidence that the inferior Court has acted in excess of its jurisdiction or, (ii) where there is a breach of natural justice; or (iii) where on the face of the record, there is distinct error of law. Learned Appellants Counsel supported this argument with the case of Nwaoboshi v. Military Administrator Delta State (2003) 11 N.W.LR. (Pt. 831) 305 and stressed that based on this case alone, the Court below ought to have allowed the Appellants Court. Learned Counsel further argued that the law is well settled that an accused person cannot be tried in his absence and that where that happened, it renders the trial a nullity. The case of Adeoye v. The State (1999) 4 S.C.N. J. 136, was cited in support of the submission; that in the instant case where at page 44 of the record the Court below confirmed that the 3rd Appellant was convicted and sentenced in absentia while at page 41 of the record the 1st Appellant was confirmed absent when the trial Senior Magistrate was addressed, the Court below ought to have allowed the Appellants appeal against the decision of the High Court refusing their application for certiorari which ought to have been granted in exercise of the supervisory powers of the High Court to keep in check excesses and arbitrariness of such inferior Courts or Tribunals. Learned Counsel therefore pointed out that the Appellants resorted to find aid in an order of certiorari to quash their conviction mainly on the grounds of breach of their rights of natural justice by the 1st Respondent and errors committed by that Court on the face of the record showing denial of fair hearing and likelihood of bias under Sections 36 and 294 of the 1999 Constitution. Relying on the cases of Edoho v. The State (2004) 5 N.W.LR. (Pt. 865) 17 at 47 and Odiba v. Azege (1998) 9 N.W.LR. (Pt. 566) 370, learned Counsel urged this Court to declare the decision of the Court below affirming the decision of the High Court perverse and liable to be set aside. With regard to the use of the Prerogative Writ of Certiorari in Oyo State, that the procedure is available under the law as part of potent means of effecting supervisory control of inferior Courts and Tribunals in the same way as the processes through appeals, and that in the circumstances of the present case where there were clear errors on the face of the record PAGE| 4 which amounted to breach of the rules of natural justice, the application of the Appellants for the order of certiorari to quash their conviction, ought to have been granted by the High Court and that the Court below was in error in failing to grant the Appellants the reliefs sought in their application concluded the learned Counsel. Based on the cases of Nwaboshi v. Military Administrator Delta State (supra) and Akwuegbo v. Kagoma (2000) 14 N.W.LR. (Pt. 687) 252 at 269, learned Counsel urged this Court to allow this appeal. In the Respondents Brief of argument, their learned Counsel noted that the main complaint of the Appellants in their trial by the 1st Respondent being the absence of the 1st Appellant on 14th June, 1999 when the trial Senior Magistrate was addressed, the absence of the 3rd Appellant on 18th April, 2000, when the trial Senior Magistrate Court delivered its judgment in which it recorded the presence of the 3rd Appellant and the allocutus attributed to him inspite of his absence on that date in that Court and submitted that the Appellants do not seem to appreciate the difference between certiorari and appeal. The learned Counsel agreed entirely with the Court below in its judgment that in exercising its discretion judiciously and judicially, a Court will not allow the exercise of or the use of the prerogative order of certiorari to supplement the regular process of appeal to a higher Court. Pointing to the conditions an applicant must satisfy for his application for an order of certiorari to succeed, such as lack of or excess of jurisdiction, error on the face of the record of the inferior Court and breach of natural justice outlined in the cases of Obodo v. Olomo (1987) 3 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 59) 111 and Amough v. Saki (1998)3. N.W.L.R. (Pt. 542) 483, and argued that the fact that all the Appellants were effectively represented by Counsel on the dates of 14th June, 1999 and 18th April, 2000 when 1st and 3rd Appellants were absent and that the failure of their Counsel to ask for adjournment to allow the attendance in Court of the 1st and 3rd Appellants, shows that the irregularities had been conceded by the Appellants which only affected the 1st and 3rd Appellants individually and does not justify the quashing of the entire proceedings of the trial of the remaining Appellants by order of certiorari rather than through the exercise of the individual right of appeal. With regard to the complaint on the failure of 1st Respondent to deliver judgment within ninety days as prescribed by Section 294(1) of the 1999 Constitution, learned Counsel argued that the provision applied only to the Courts established under the Constitution and not to those other Courts established by any other means like the 1st Respondent Court established PAGE| 5 by the law of Oyo State of Nigeria. Learned Counsel concluded that all the complaints of denial of fair hearing raised by the Appellants on this issue of delivery of judgment 10 months after the addresses or likelihood of bias on the part of the 1st Respondent, could have been appropriately questioned on appeal rather than through the Prerogative Writ of certiorari as correctly found by the Court below and therefore urged this Court to dismiss the appeal. As I have earlier stated in this judgment, the main issue for determination in this appeal is as identified in the Respondents brief of argument and it is whether the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right in holding that the Appellants ought to have challenged the proceedings and judgment of the trial Senior Magistrate Court by way of appeal rather than by Prerogative Writ of certiorari. The law is well settled that the Prerogative Writ of certiorari is available under our 1999 Constitution in Section 272(2) and the various State High Court laws and the State High Court Civil Procedure Rules to empower the various High Courts to act as watch dogs over judicial activities of inferior Courts or Tribunals. The process is meant to provide a supervisory process to keep in check the excesses and arbitrariness of such Courts. Denning L J. (as he then was) precisely put it in Rex v. Northumberland Compensation Appeal Tribunal Exparte Shaw (1952) 1 KB 338 at 346 – 347 thus – ‘The Court of Kings Bench has inherent jurisdiction to control all inferior Tribunals, not in appellate capacity, but in a supervisory capacity .This control extends not only to seeing that inferior Tribunals keep within jurisdiction, but also to seeing that they observe the law. The control is exercised by means of a power to quash any determination …… which on the face of it, offends against the law.’ This English Court decision was adopted, and applied by our Courts particularly by the Court of Appeal in Oduwole v. Famakinwa (1990) 4 N.W.LR. 239 at 251. This supervisory power is vested in our High Courts by the various State High Court Laws and High Courts Civil Procedure Rules and above all by the provisions of Section 272(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution which provides- ‘272(1) Subject to the provisions of section 251 and other provisions of this Constitution the High Court of a State shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine any civil proceedings in which the existence or extent of a PAGE| 6 legal right, power, duty, liability, privilege, interest, obligation or claim is in issue or to hear and determine any criminal proceedings involving or relating to any penalty, forfeiture, punishment or other liability in respect of an offence committed by any person. (2) The reference to civil or criminal proceedings in this Section includes reference to the proceedings which originate in the High Court of a State and those which are brought before the High Court to be dealt with by the Court in exercise of its appellate or supervisory jurisdiction.” In other words once grounds for bringing application for order of certiorari exists, a person aggrieved by the decision or order of an inferior Court or Tribunal, can apply for an order of certiorari to issue, even though he has a right of appeal also against the order or decision. With the statutory provisions also on the ground, there is no doubt whatsoever that the High Court of Justice of Oyo State before which the Appellants filed their application by prerogative writ of certiorari asking that Court to quash the entire proceedings of the 1st Respondent Senior Magistrate Court culminating in the undated judgment convicting them of the offences of conspiracy, assault occasioning grievous harm and malicious damage, has jurisdiction to entertain their case. The only question for determining now is whether that High Court was right in dismissing the Appellants application and also whether the Court below was also right in affirming the decision of the High Court. One of the cases dealing with the effective use of certiorari proceeding is that of the Queen v. District Officer & Anor. (1961) 1 All N.LR. 51 where Ademola, CJF (of the blessed memory) put it pointedly thus at page 58 – ‘Now it is clear that it is of the utmost importance that the Court should act to prevent an injustice being done when the remedy sought is within its powers to grant. This to my mind, is one of such matters in which the Court should act. The High Court has an inherent powers, unfettered by statute, to control inferior Tribunals in a supervisory capacity. Such control is by means of certiorari to keep the inferior Tribunal within the law, within bounds and within such jurisdiction as the legislature deemed fit to confer upon it.’ See also the case of Akwuegbu v. Kagoma (2000) 14 N.W.LR. (Pt. 687) 252 at 269, a judgment of the Court of Appeal Kaduna Division in which I affirmed the order of certiorari issued by the PAGE| 7 High Court of justice of Kaduna State quashing the proceedings, judgment conviction and sentence and other orders made by the Kaduna Rent Tribunal. In the case at hand, with regard to the errors of law on the face of the record of the inferior Court or Tribunal, it is quite clear from the proceedings of the trial Senior Magistrate Court of 14th June, 1999 at page 21 of the record of appeal that the 1st Respondent Senior Magistrate 1 recorded the 1st accused person absent while 2 , 3 and 4 accused persons were present. As all the 4 accused persons were jointly charged particularly in the charge of conspiracy and were being jointly tried, the 1st Respondent ought not to have proceeded with the trial in the absence of 1st accused person even though the hearing of that day was for address. The law is trite that addresses by parties or their learned Counsel are an integral part of the hearing or trial of the accused person. See Obodo v. Olomu (1987) 3 N.W.LR. (Pt. 59) 111. Proceeding with the trial of the accused persons in the absence of one of them therefore, had constituted a serious breach of the criminal procedure law of Oyo State which requires the presence of an accused person in Court throughout his trial in the absence of any necessary allowable reasons in law to keep him out of Court for public safety. As for the excess or lack of jurisdiction on the part of the inferior Court or Tribunal, the proceedings containing the charges for which the accused persons were tried, have confirmed that all the charges for which the accused persons were tried and ultimately convicted, were within the jurisdiction of the 1st Respondent Senior Magistrate Court 1. However, although the judgment of the 1st Respondent was not dated, it is clear from the record of appeal particularly the affidavits filed for and against the application for order of certiorari heard at the High Court, that the judgment was delivered on 18th April, 2000 in the absence of the 3rd accused person but whose absence was not recorded on record as ought to have been reflected clearly to necessitate the adjourning- of the delivery of that judgment to., another day, when the 3rd accused person shall have been in attendance in Court. In this regard in my view, a more serious error of law committed by the 1st Respondent is at page 35 of the record where 1st Respondent after finding all accused persons guilty of counts 1, 2 and 3 in the absence of the 3rd accused person, proceeded as follows – ‘Previous conviction:- Nil Allocutus:-Accused persons pleaded for leniency.’ PAGE| 8 Certainly, for the 1st Respondent to attribute a plea of leniency to the 3rd accused person who was absent in Court on the day the judgment was delivered, may call into question the status of the proceedings of the Court of that day as to whether or not such proceedings can qualify as judicial proceedings of a Court law. In otherwords by refusing to record the absence of the 3rd accused person but recording what the absent 3rd accused person did not say in Court that day, had in my view, constituted a serious error of law on the face of the record of that inferior Court to justify the removal of the entire proceedings of that Court to the High Court by certiorari order to be quashed by the High Court as sought by the Appellants in their application in exercise of the supervisory powers of the High Court. In any case the very fact that the 1st Appellant and the 3rd Appellant were absent in their joint trial in Court on 14 June, 1999 when the inferior Court was addressed and 18 April, 2000 when the inferior Court delivered its judgment, this exercise of allowing the trial to proceed in the absence of some of the accused persons being jointly tried had rendered the entire proceedings of that Court including the judgment is a complete nullity for not only denial of fair hearing under Section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 but also for failure of that Court to give the affected Appellants even a hearing that may not be called a fair hearing. See Godpower Asakitikpi v. The State (1993) 5 N.W.LR. (Pt. 296) 641 at 657. It has to be stressed that it is an essential principle of our criminal law and practice in Nigeria that the trial of an accused person for an offence has to be conducted in the presence of the accused and for such purpose trial means the whole of the proceedings including the judgment and sentence. The only exception is where the violent tendencies of an accused person may necessitate the keeping him out of Court in the interest of public safety for peaceful conduct of the trial. On the face of the record of this appeal therefore, I am of the view that the Appellants application by way of writ of certiorari to bring the proceedings of 1st Respondent including the judgment before the High Court of Oyo State at Ibadan for the purpose of being quashed had been made out to justify granting the application. This is because in such application for the order of the writ of certiorari to bring the proceedings of an inferior Court before the High Court to be quashed, the fact that the evidence on record has disclosed a case against the applicant, is totally irrelevant provided on the face of the record of the inferior Court, lack of or PAGE| 9 excess of jurisdiction or, breach of the rule of natural justice and errors of law on the face of the record, are apparent to justify granting the order of certiorari to quash the entire proceedings complained of by the application. According this appeal shall be and is hereby allowed, The Ruling of the High Court of Justice of Oyo State dismissing the Applicants/Appellants application which was affirmed on appeal by the Court of Appeal Ibadan Division in its judgment of 1st July, 2003, is hereby set aside and replaced with an order granting the order of certiorari and quashing the proceedings of the trial of the Appellants including the judgment of the 1st Respondent the Senior Magistrate 1 in suit No. MI/944C/98. The 3rd relief of discharge and acquittal of the Appellants cannot be granted after quashing the entire proceedings of the inferior Court. That relief which is no longer available is hereby refused. JUDGMENT (Delivered by Hon. Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, JSC) Having had the opportunity of considering the exhaustive reasons prepared by my learned brother, Mohammed, JSC, I am in complete agreement with the conclusion he arrived at. I desire to add only a few brief observations in support of the judgment. The main issue in contention in this appeal, as identified in the appellants brief of argument and adopted in the lead judgment, is the propriety vel non of the decision of the Court below that the appellants ought to have challenged the proceedings and judgment of the trial Court by way of appeal rather than by the prerogative writ of certiorari. Certiorari is a prerogative order or writ of common law origin Available to the High Court in the exercise of its supervisory control over an inferior Court, tribunal or a body entrusted with the performance of a judicial or quasi-judicial function to ensure that it does not exceed its jurisdiction or commit irregularities thereby making its decision bad on its face. See Nwaboshi v. Military Administrator Delta State (2003) 11 NWLR (Pt. 831) 305 (SC); Arzika v. Governor Northern Nigeria (1961) All NLR 379; Okukpe v. Federal Board of Inland Revenue (1974) 4 SC 93 (Underlining mine), De Smith, the learned author of ‘Judicial Review of Administrative Action, 4th Edition at pages 396-407 thereof listed four conditions on any one of which the order of certiorari may PAGE| 10 be granted. The four conditions are: (1) Lack of jurisdiction. (2) Breach of rules of natural justice. (3) Error of law on the face of the records, and (4) Decision obtained by fraud or collusion. As demonstrated in the lead judgment, the trial Senior Magistrate breached the rules of natural justice and violated the right of fair hearing as entrenched in s.36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) by taking proceedings in the absence of some of those being jointly tried by His Worship. Moreover, the 3rd Respondent was not in Court on the day the judgment was delivered. This notwithstanding, His Worship recorded he 3rd Respondent was in Court and credited him with a plea for leniency. In an undated judgment, the 3rd Respondent was convicted in absentia and sentenced by the Senior Magistrate. With the undated judgment, it is a matter for speculation as to when the time to exercise !he right of appeal has run. All the above individually and collectively smacks/smack of fraud and collusion. Learned Counsel for the Respondents laboured to justify the delivery of the judgment in the case about ten months after the final address on the tenuous ground that s.294 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) applies only to Courts established by the Constitution. The section provides: ‘S.294 (1): Every Court established under this Constitution shall deliver its decision in writing not later than ninety days after the conclusion of evidence and final address and furnish all parties to the case determined with duly authenticated copies of the decision within seven days of the delivery thereof.’ A distinction has to be drawn between a Court established directly by the Constitution and a Court established under the Constitution. The Magistrate Courts belong to the latter category. Magistrates Courts are established pursuant to powers donated to the States by the Constitution. See s.4 (6) of the 1999 Constitution as altered which provides: “S. 4 (6): The legislative powers of a State of the Federation shall be vested in the House of Assembly of the State. PAGE| 11 The Magistrates Court Law of Oyo State which created or established the Magistrates Court as conceded by learned Counsel for the Respondent is a law made pursuant to s.4 (6) of the Constitution. The Magistrates Court is established under the Constitution and is therefore subject to s.294 (1) of the Constitution. In any case, s.294 (1) of the Constitution is intended to ensure that a Court delivers its judgment before the lapse of human memory, those who preside over the Magistrates Court have no claim to better and longer memory than the Judges of superior Courts, nor can there be a double standard of justice delivery, one in the lower and the other in the High Courts. It is for the above and the illuminating reasons adduced in the lead judgment that I also allow the appeal and I adopt the Consequential orders in the lead judgment.