Surakatu & Anor V. Buraimo Dende & Ors (1941)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal
Employment of legal practitioners in Appeals . under Protectorate Courts Ordinance 193.3 or the Native Courts Ordinance 1933— Section 49 ( 1) (a) of the Protectorate Courts Ordinance—Legal practitioners not allowed to appear. except in land cases ” where value of property, as stated in. writ o f summons and as it appears to a Judge, exceeds £200 “—Value of property appeared to Judge to exceed £200–Value of property not stated and in fact is never stated in Native Court writs—if strict grammatical meaning followed both. conditions must he fulfilled—Maxwell’ 3 rule of interpretation of Statutes invoked—words ” as stated in the writ of summons, and ” should be disregarded where value of property not stated.
Held : Legal practitioner may be employed where Judge satisfied value of property exceeds £200.
There is no need to set out the facts.
The following joint opinion was delivered :—
SINGDON, C.J., NIGERIA, PETRIDES, C.J., GOLD COAST AND GRAHAM PAUL, C.J., SIERRA LEONE.
The question in this Case Stated is as to the interpretation of section 49 (1) (a) of the Protectorate Courts Ordinance, 193:3. which is as follows :—
” The employment of legal practitioners enrolled to ” practice either as barristers or solicitors in the Supreme Court ” shall be allowed in causes and matters, whether civil or ” criminal, before the High Court or a Magistrate’s Court. ” provided- that a legal practitioner shall not be allowed
” appear for or to assist any party in court in any appeal under ” this or the Native Courts Ordinance, 1933, relating to or ” from the decision •of a Native Court, except in land cases-
” (a) where the value of the property, as stated in the writ
” of summons and as it appears to a Judge, exceeds
” £200, and the Judge allows the employment of a
” legal practitioner,”
and this Court is asked the following question by the learned
Assistant Judge of the Ibadan Division of the High Court :—
” . . . . whether or not under section 49 (a) of the ” Protectorate Courts Ordinance I can allow the employment ” of a legal practitioner in this appeal relating to the decision ” of a Native Court in a land case where the property appears ” to me to exceed £200 but where the value of the property was
not stated in the writs of summons, and if not what should ” be done in the premises.”
When the value of the property is stated in the writ of summons there is no difficulty, but it is nowhere enacted that an applicant for a writ of summons in the Native Court must insert in his application a statement of the value of the property to which his application relates and in point of fact no value of the property is ever stated in Native_ Court Writs so far as the considerable experience of the learned Judge in the Court below goes.
How then are the words of the section to be interpreted? If they are to be given their strict grammatical meaning, both conditions must be fulfilled before a Judge can allow the employment of a legal practitioner. In that case the answer to the question put would be ” you cannot.”
But must they be given their strict grammatical meaning? As to this the following passage from Maxwell on the Interpretation of Statutes (7th Edition, page 198) is pertinent :—
” Where the language of a statute, in its ordinary meaning ” and grammatical construction, leads to a manifest contradic” tion of the apparent purpose of the enactment, or to some ” inconvenience or absurdity, hardship or injustice, ” presumably not intended, a construction may be put upon
it which modifies the meaning of the words, and even the ” structure of the sentence. This may be done by departing ” from the rules of grammar, by giving an unusual meaning to ” particular words, by altering their collocation, by rejecting ” them altogether, or by interpolating other words, under the ” influence, no doubt, of an irresistible conviction that the ” Legislature could not possibly have intended what its words ” signify, and that the modifications thus made are mere ” corrections of careless language and really give the true ” meaning. Where the main object and intention of a statute
” are clear, it must not be reduced to a nullity by the draft” man’s unskilfulness or ignorance of the law, except in a case ” of necessity, or the absolute intractability of the, language ” used. The rules of grammar yield readily in such cases to ” those of common sense.”
We are of opinion that to give the words of the section under consideration their strict grammatical construction would result in the contradiction of the obvious purpose of the enactment and in absurdity, hardship and injustice, for we cannot believe that the Legislature really intended the absurdity that a Judge with an appeal from a Native Court before him involving difficult questions of law about a property which he is satisfied is more than £200 in value cannot under section 49 allow the employment of legal practitioners to assist in the elucidation of these questions just because, in accordance with their usual practice, the Native Court has not stated the value of the property in the writ of summons.
We consider, therefore, that this is a case where Maxwell’s rule of interpretation should be invoked and the words ” as stated in the writ of summons and ” should be disregarded and rejected in interpreting the section in all cases where the writ of summons does not state the value of the property.
The answer we give to the question asked is—” you can.”