TRANSNAV PURPOSE NAVIGATION LIMITED V VELCAN ENERGY HOLDINGS DUBAI LTD & ORS
APPEAL NO: SC. 1338/2018
AREAS OF LAW: ADMIRALTY LAW, APPEAL, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, COURT, FAIR HEARING, JUDGMENT AND ORDER, LAW OF CONTRACT, PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE, WORDS AND PHRASES
SUMMARY OF FACT:
The Appellant sued the 3rd Respondent for monetary reliefs in respect of a Chartered Credit Agreement (CCA) and in order to secure its claim, obtained an interlocutory order of arrest vide an exparte application. The trial court however refused the 1st and 2nd Respondents’ (who were interveners in the suit before the trial court) application but stayed further proceedings in the suit. The trial court did not consider the rights and interests of the Respondents in their application, which caused them to appeal to the lower court. The lower court found that the trial court breached the Respondents’ rights to fair hearing and remitted the matter back to another judge for expedited hearing. The Appellant not comfortable with this has appealed to this court.
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION:
ADMIRALTY LAW, WORDS AND PHRASES
“ACTION IN REM” – DEFINITION OF AN “ACTION IN REM”
“One of the most attractive and most significant features of the admiralty jurisdiction of the lower Court is the possibility of instituting an “action in rem”, that is directly against a Vessel, usually by getting an order arresting the Vessel after a Writ of Summons has been issued, wherein the Vessel is made the Defendant to a suit. The aim of this is usually to ensure that the Plaintiff is assured of reaping the fruits of judgment in the event of a successful outcome, due to the peculiar nature of the shipping industry. This Court in Pacers Multi-Dynamics Ltd V. The M.V. Dancing Sister & Anor (2012) LPELR-784S(SC), Per Rhodes-Vivour, JSC, defined an action in rem thus: “An admiralty action in rem is a proceeding against a ship, the res, where the ship is arrested. By the arrest the owner of the ship is compelled to enter appearance and defend the ship. The owner is enjoined to answer to the judgment of the Court to the extent of his interest in the property.” PER U. M. A. AJI, J.S.C.
COURT, PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE
COURT – CONSEQUENCE OF FAILURE OF COURT TO DISPENSE WITH ALL PENDING APPLICATIONS OR PROCESSES BEFORE IT
“It is not in dispute and indeed the law is very well settled that a Court of law has a duty to dispense with all pending applications and/or processes before it, before reaching a final decision in a cause or matter. Certainly the failure of a Court to do so, without a valid reason would amount to a violation of the right of the party not heard to fair hearing and such violation would render the proceedings liable to be struck out. See Per Kekere-Ekun, JSC in PDP & Ors V. Ezeonwuka & Anor (2017) LPELR-42563(SC).” PER U. M. A. AJI, J.S.C.
JUDGMENT AND ORDER, COURT, PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE
ORDER OF COURT- WHETHER COURT CAN GRANT AN ORDER AGAINST COMPLETED ACTS
“It is trite law that a Court does not grant an order against completed act. See Ayorinde v. AG of Oyo State (1966) 3 NWLR (PT.434) 20, The Regency General Of Olota V. Sodlende (1998) 6 NWLR (PT.552) 72; Lafferi V. Nal Merchant Bank (Plc (2001) 3 WRN 106.” PER U. M. A. AJI, J.S.C.
JUDGMENT AND ORDER, COURT, PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE
ORDER OF COURT – EFFECT OF A COURT ORDER MADE AGAINST PERSONS NOT JOINED AS PARTIES TO A SUIT
“The effect of order(s) made against persons not joined as a party is that such order is a nullity and of no effect. Where persons who ought to be joined to the suit had orders made against them by the trial judge, such proceedings ought to be a nullity, being a denial of the 1st and 2nd Respondents’ right to fair hearing. See Ovunwo & Anor V. Woko & Ors (2011) 7 SCM 207 AT 231-232, Nurtw & Anor V. Rtean & Anor (2012) 3 SCM 171 AT 178-179, Per Bage, JSC in Oyeyemi & Ors V. Owoeye & Anor (2017) LPELR-41903(SC).” PER U. M. A. AJI, J.S.C.
FAIR HEARING, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE
PRINCIPLE OF FAIR HEARING – APPLICABILITY OF THE PRINCIPLE OF FAIR HEARING
“On the critical question of whether the trial court breached the respondents’-right to fair hearing when that court failed to determine the application dated 19th September, 2017, an answer thereto takes one to Section 36 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended which provides thus:
In the determination of the Civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.
The interpretation of Section 36 (1) CFRN has been variously done by the Courts particularly the Apex Court so as to make the meaning and import now common place as to include access to court and fair hearing. See Abubakar Audu v FRN (2013) 53 NSCQLR 456 at 469; Alioke v Oye & Ors. (2018) LPELR-45153 (SC) 1 at 26 – 27; Ekiyor & Anor. v Bomor (1997) 9 NWLR (Pt.519) 1 at 11 & 14; Ariori v Eiemo (2012) 4 LC 460 at 492; Menakaya v Menakaya (2001) 16 NWLR (Pt.738) 206 at 263; Amadi v NNPC (2000) 10 NWLR (764) 76 at 109 – 110; Bakare v A. G. Federation (1990) 5 NWLR (Pt.152) 516 at 535.” PER M. U. PETER-ODILI, J.S.C.
FAIR HEARING, PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE
BREACH OF THE RIGHT TO FAIR HEARING – EFFECT OF A BREACH OF THE RIGHT TO FAIR HEARING
“First of all, the right to fair hearing is fundamental to every judicial proceeding in our legal system. It is the bedrock of our justice system such that its breach in our judicial system automatically vitiates the entire proceedings. See Chukwuma v FRN (2011)13 NWLR (pt 1264) 391; Awoniyi v Registered Trustees AMORC (2000) 10 NWLR (pt 676) 522.” PER J. I. OKORO, J.S.C.
APPEAL, COURT, PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE
ISSUES BEFORE THE COURT – DUTY OF COURTS TO CONSIDER AND PRONOUNCE ON ALL ISSUES BEFORE IT
“It follows therefore that the court is under obligation to hear and determine all matters properly brought before it fairly. The court of law is duty bound to consider and pronounce on all issues properly committed before it for determination by contending parties. In the case of FAAN v WES (Nig) Ltd (2011) 8 NWLR (pt 1249) 219 at 237, this court per Muhammad, JSC held as follows:-
Indeed, it is the duty of a court to entertain and decide on the merit or otherwise of any application brought before it by any party notwithstanding the perceived strength or weakness of such an application. It is a party’s basic and constitutional right which he cannot be denied of. See also Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited & Anor v Simeon Monokpo & Anor (2003) 18 NWLR (pt 852) 346.”
STATUTES REFERRED TO:
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999
Court of Appeal Act, 2004
Supreme Court Act