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Home » WACA Cases » S. M. Timitimi & Ors V. Chief Amabebe & Anor (1953) LJR-WACA

S. M. Timitimi & Ors V. Chief Amabebe & Anor (1953) LJR-WACA

S. M. Timitimi & Ors V. Chief Amabebe (1953)

LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal

Jurisdiction—Distinction between competency and irregularity or error of law or fact—Inferior Courts.
Native Courts—Court unlawfully constituted.
Evidence—Judgment delivered by Court without jurisdiction admitted but not affecting decision of case—Ordinance, section 52; section 225 (1).

Facts

Section 52 provides that:—
“Any party to a suit or other proceeding may show that any judgment, order or decree which is relevant under section 48, 49 or 50 and which has been proved by the adverse party, was delivered by a Court without jurisdiction, or was obtained by fraud or collusion.”
(On section 225 (1), which is not cited in the judgment, see the Editor’s Note below the Cases cited.)

At the trial the plaintiffs tendered a judgment of a Native Court, to which the defendants objected that the Court, contrary to law, was presided over by an administrative officer; but the trial Judge admitted it on the ground that it was a subsisting judgment not appealed against and it was not open to him to declare it a nullity.

It was argued in the defendants’ appeal that that judgment must have influenced the Judge in deciding the case; but from the Judge’s judgment in this case it appeared that he did not rely on it as establishing the plaintiffs’ claim.

There was evidence of their ownership and long exclusive possession—other judgments, their own oral evidence and also that of neighbouring owners on all sides of the disputed lands.

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Held

(1) The Native Court was unlawfully constituted, therefore it had no jurisdiction, and its judgment was a nullity.

(2) An inferior Court, such as a Native Court, is not presumed to have any jurisdiction but that which is expressly provided; the party against whom the judgment was offered in evidence could, under section 52 of the Evidence Ordinance (Cap. 63), establish the invalidity of the judgment by showing that the Court from which it emanated had no jurisdiction.

(3) It was clear, however from the decision under appeal that the trial Judge did not regard the judgment of the Native Court which was wrongly admitted as establishing the plaintiffs’ title to the land but founded his decision in their favour on a sound body of other evidence.

Per curiam: A Court is said to be of competent jurisdiction with regard to a suit or other proceeding when it has power to hear or determine it or exercise any judicial power therein.

There is a distinction between an order or judgment which a Court is not competent to make and an order which, even if erroneous in law or in fact, is within the Court’s competency: where there is no jurisdiction the proceedings are void; but where a Court of competent jurisdiction makes an erroneous order, it is appealable.

An irregularity in the exercise of jurisdiction should not be confused with a total lack of jurisdiction, as, for example, where the adjudicating body was so composed that it had no power or authority whatever to hear and determine the suit, as was the case of the Native Court whose judgment was put in evidence in the Court below.

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(Editor’s Note: on Held (3) above: This being a Nigerian case, section 225 (1) of the Evidence Ordinance (Cap. 63), may be referred to; it provides “ The wrongful admission of evidence shall not of itself be a ground for the reversal of any decision in any case where it shall appear to the Court on appeal that the evidence so admitted cannot reasonably be held to have affected the decision and that such decision would have been the same if such evidence had not been admitted.”)


Appeal dismissed.

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