Areas of Law:
CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE, FAIR HEARING, COURT, APPEAL, FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, WORDS AND PHRASES, INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE
Summary of Facts
This consolidated appeal is against the decision of the Court of Appeal. The facts of the case are that the Accused/Appellants alongside some other persons were arraigned at the Chief Magistrate Court, Awka on the 24th of May, 2006 on a seven count charge amongst which were conspiracy to commit felony, malicious damages to properties and assault on police officers. The Accused/Appellants pleaded not guilty to the charge and upon an application by his counsel, he was granted bail. However, on 3/8/06, the counsel representing the Accused/Appellants brought an application for an order of the court directing the Prosecution/Respondent to furnish the defence with all the documents which are relevant to the case.
Though the Prosecution/Respondent opposed this application on the ground that the CPL did not provide for the upfront of relevant documents in summary trials, the Chief magistrate Court however ordered that photocopies of the documents to be relied upon be produced to the Accused/Appellants, howbeit, cost of such production should be borne by the Accused/Appellant. Counsel to the Accused/Appellants then went further to write a petition addressing it to the Inspector General of Police, Assistant Inspector-General of Police, and the Commissioner of Police Anambra State, accusing the prosecuting counsel of compromising his position in the case. Counsel to the Accused/Appellants also filed a notice to produce in the Chief Magistrate Court.
Displeased by the decision of the Chief Magistrate Court, the Prosecution/Respondent appealed against the decision to the Anambra State High court, Awka, where the decision of the Chief Magistrate Court was affirmed. Further displeased, the Prosecution/Respondent appealed to the Court of Appeal. At the Court of Appeal, the Accused/Appellants counsel contended that whether in civil or criminal cases, parties are compelled through front-loading to disclose their evidence prior to the hearing, and stated that full disclosure of evidence prior to trial was constitutionally mandatory. The Court of Appeal disagreed with this position, upturned the decision of the High Court and remitted the case back to the Chief Magistrate Court for the Accused/Appellants to take their plea before trial commenced. Aggrieved by the decision of the Court of Appeal, the Accused/Appellants have appealed to the Supreme Court.
Issue for Determination
FACILITIES – DEFINITION OF FACILITIES
“The word facilities’ is not defined in the Constitution. Blacks Law Dictionary 5th Ed (1975)defines facilities’ as
“that which promotes the ease of any action, operation, transaction, or course of conduct the word facilities’ embraces anything which aids or makes easier the
performances of the activities involved in the business of a person or corporation”. PER K. B. AKA’ AHS, J.S.C
FAIR TRIAL – WHEN AN ACCUSED PERSON IS IGNORANT OF THE CASE AGAINST HIM, IT AMOUNTS TO A VIOLATION OF THE PRINCIPLE OF FAIR HEARING OR FAIR TRIAL
“In a situation where the accused person does not know the case he will meet, while the prosecution knows everything concerning the case against the accused ahead of time, amounts to nothing less than procedural inequality which is a gross violation of the principle of fair hearing or fair trial and is tantamount to a violation of the said section 36 (6) of the Constitution”. PER K. B. AKA’ AHS, J.S.C
RIGHT TO LIBERTY OF AN ACCUSED PERSON – AN ACCUSED PERSON MUST BE AFFORDED THE OPPORTUNITY TO DEFEND HIMSELF BEFORE HIS LIBERTY IS TAKEN AWAY
“The moment an accused person is facing a charge, his personal liberty is at stake and before that liberty is taken away, he must be afforded every opportunity to defend himself. It is immaterial whether he elects to be tried summarily or on information, once he becomes aware that he has a charge hanging over his neck for an infraction of the law and makes a request either orally or in writing for any facilities to prepare for his defence, the court must accede to his request and the prosecution has to comply”. PER K. B. AKA’ AHS, J.S.C
DEFENCE OF A CRIMINAL CHARGE – RIGHT OF AN ACCUSED PERSON TO REQUEST FOR FACILITIES TO ENABLE HIM PREPARE HIS DEFENCE
“When a person is accused of an offence and requests for facilities to enable him prepare his defence, and the facilities in question are statements of witnesses, it will suffice if the prosecution makes available photocopies of the statements. The court below was clearly in error when it made the election of the appellant to be tried on information as a condition precedent to exercising his right to request for facilities to prepare his defence”. PER K. B. AKA’AHS, J.S.C
RAISING AN ISSUE SUO MOTU – DUTY ON A COURT NOT TO RAISE AN ISSUE AND DECIDE ON SAME WITHOUT AFFORDING PARTIES AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE HEARD
“The position of the law is that a court is not entitled to raise an issue and decide on it without affording the parties an opportunity to be heard. This is because in doing so the court is seen to leave its exalted position as impartial arbiter and descend into the arena of conflict. See; Kuti Vs Balogun (1978) 1 SC 53 @ 60: Obawole Vs Williams (19961 10 NWLR (Pt.4771 146; Stirling Civil Eng. (Nig.)Ltd. Vs Yahaya (20051 11 NWLR (Pt.9351 181: Omokuwajo Vs F.R.N. (20131 9 NWLR (Pt.13591 300: Ominiyi Vs Alabi (20151 LPELR -SC.41/2004”. PER K. M. O.KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C
COURT – DUTY OF AN APPELLATE COURT NOT TO MAKE CASE FOR PARTIES
“An appellate court is also not entitled to raise an issue not raised by either of the parties at the trial court or on appeal and base its decision thereon without affording the parties an opportunity to be heard. The court, being an impartial arbiter, must never be seen to be making a case for one of the parties”. PER K. M. O.KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C
GOLDEN RULE OF INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES – WHERE WORDS USED IN A STATUTE ARE CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS, THEY MUST BE GIVEN THEIR ORDINARY MEANING
“The golden rule of interpretation of statutes is that where the words used in a statute are clear and unambiguous they must be given their natural and ordinary meaning unless to do so would lead to absurdity or inconsistency with the rest of the statute.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C
CHARGE – WHAT CONSTITUTES A FORMAL CHARGE AGAINST AN ACCUSED PERSON?
“A person is “charged” with a criminal offence when he is formally accused of having committed an offence. The formal accusation in writing is what constitutes the charge against him. Once he is made aware of the charge against him he is entitled to commence the preparation of his defence. This is when the provisions of Section 36 (6) (b) of the Constitution will be activated”. PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C
INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE – DUTY OF THE COURT TO ASCERTAIN THE NATURAL MEANING OF THE WORDS USED IN A STATUTE
“It is a fundamental or primary duty of the court to ascertain the natural meaning of the words used in a statute. The court must not speculate or write into the statute words which the legislature did not use”. PER J.I.OKORO, J.S.C
APPLICABILITY OF SECTION 36(6)(B)OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA – SECTION 36(6)(B)OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA APPLIES TO BOTH SUMMARY TRIAL IN THE MAGISTRATE’S COURT AND TRIAL ON INFORMATION IN THE HIGH COURT
“There is nothing to suggest that an accused person is to elect before the section applies. See American Cyanamid Company V. Vitality Pharmaceuticals Ltd (1991) 2 NWLR (pt. 171) 15.I hold the view that section 36(6) (b) applies to both summary trial in the Magistrate’s Court and trial on information in the High Court”.
Statutes Referred to
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)1999.
Criminal Procedure Code
Criminal Procedure Law of Anambra State
High Court of Anambra State (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2006