Said Ajami V. The Comptroller Of Customs (1954)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West Africa Court of Appeal
Evidence—Experts—Foreign law—Evidence on whether notes are legal tender— Competency of experienced bank manager—(Nigeria) Evidence Ordinance, sections 56 and 57.
“A principle which emerges from them (viz. the cases) considered together is that not only the general nature, but also the precise character of the question upon which expert evidence is required, have to be taken into account when deciding whether the qualifications of a person entitle him to be regarded as a competent expert.
So the practical knowledge of a person who is not a lawyer may be sufficient in certain cases to qualify him as a competent expert on a question of foreign law.” (From the judgment infra.)
The Exchange Control Ordinance prohibits the export of “any notes of a
class which are or have at any time been legal tender in the United Kingdom
or in any other territory ”.
The Comptroller of Customs sued the appellant for attempting to export French Colonial Franc Notes, and, to prove that they were legal tender in French West Africa (a territory adjoining Nigeria), he called a witness who testified as follows:—
“Manager, BarclaysBank, Kafio, in Banking business 32 years, 24 years in Nigeria, I look at these notes, they are to the best of my knowledge, French Colonial Franc Notes, they were legal tender in French West Africa on 15th June this year. On that day these francs were worth 490 to £1 English note. The English value of 9,884,500 francs is, therefore, £20,172.”
He was not cross-examined. A Gazette was also produced to show that Barclays Bank had been appointed an “authorised dealer in foreign currency ” under the Ordinance, under which only authorised dealers could normally deal in foreign currency. No evidence was called for the appellant. The above evidence was accepted in Nigeria: the judgment of W.A.C.A. is dated 19th February, 1952.
The point raised for the appellant in the Privy Council was that the evidence did not prove that the notes were legal tender in French West Africa because (1) the matter involved a question of law, but the witness, not being a professional lawyer, could not be regarded as a competent expert, (2) that it had not been shown that as part of his duties he kept in such close touch with the currency of French West Africa as to make him competent to give the evidence he gave, and
(3) that by the words “to the best of my knowledge ” he so qualified his evidence
as to render it of no probative value. Section 56 of the Evidence Ordinance (Nigeria) provides that “when the court has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law . . . the opinions of persons specially skilled in such foreign law . . . are relevant facts ”, and “such persons are called experts” and section 57 provides that “Where there is a question as to foreign law the opinions of experts who in their profession are acquainted with such law are admissible evidence thereof ”.
(1) The knowledge which entitles a person to be deemed “specially skilled” on some points of foreign law may be gained in appropriate circumstances by a person whose profession is not that of the law;
(2) The witness had had long banking experience in Nigeria, which adjoins French West Africa, and was an authorised dealer in foreign currency; and upon a fair view of his evidence it must be presumed that he was speaking with a sense of responsibility from adequate personal experience;
(3) “ To the best of my knowledge ” in his evidence did not deprive it of all probative value: no attempt was made by the appellant to contradict what he said, and his evidence must be held to have established the facts to which he deposed.