TECHNICALITY OR SUBSTANTIAL JUSTICE: WHAT COURT ROOM LAWYERS MUST KNOW AND ADHERE TO IN 2019 AND BEYOND:
Recent pronouncements from the courts particularly the Supreme Court has made it necessary for those of us actively involved in litigation to study and operate within the lines so as to efficiently and effectively conduct our cases in court with a degree of professional decorum and relative certainty of possible outcomes.
This is because experience has shown that we often rely on certain rules of court or legal principles to the extreme in a bid to articulate and ventilate our position in the cases before our courts. It must be emphasized that there is no water tight rule or law that is incapable of interrogation.
But what is technicality? In OSAREREN VS. FRN(2018)10 NWLR (PT. 1627) 221 @ 226, RATIO 12, the Supreme Court defined held “Technicality in a matter could arise if a party is relying on abstract or inordinate legalism to becloud or drown the merits of a case. In other words, it arises when a party relies on or holds tenaciously unto the rules of court with little or no regard to the justice of the matter.
As far as such a party is concerned, the rules must be followed to the last sentence, the last word and the last letter. The party emphasising technicality has little or no regard to the justice that would be sacrificed or the injustice that would be caused to the opponent”.
Going by this classical definition of what technicality is by the apex court, it is only apposite to add that what is important in any given case is substantial compliance with the rule or law provided so doing will enable the enthronement of substantial justice in the matter.
In FRN VS. DAIRO (2015) 6 NWLR (PT.1454) 141@ RATIO 13, the court held “Rules of court are meant to be obeyed. However, obedience to rules must not be slavish to the point that justice in a case is destroyed or thrown overboard … Therefore, if in the course of doing justice, some harm is done to some procedural rule which hurts the rule, the court should be happy that it took such line of action in pursuance of justice”.
So, we must be careful not to glorify or elevate rules of procedural to the status of gods to be worshipped because that certainly was not the intendment of the makers of the rules in the first place.
Further, when we import legalism into the interpretation and application of rules or a particular legislation, we are inadvertently converting our law courts into workshops of technical justice and our judges into judicial technicians,a situation which certain will make a mockery of our trade and the very pillars upon which our legal order, profession and society stands.
This is perhaps why, in EZE VS. FRN (2017) 15 NWLR (PT. 1589)433@445 RATIO 10, the Supreme Court sounded it loud and clear, “justices of the Supreme Court are not judicial technicians and the Supreme Court is not a workshop of technical justice”.
As Lawyers, it is our place and calling to promote and not stultify the process of justice delivery. As ministers in the temple of justice, necessity is laid upon us to assist the courts to do justice and not otherwise, no matter the “windfall” involved.
In “IDISI VS. ECODRIL NIG. LTD (2016) 12 NWLR (PT.1527) 355 @ 362, RATIO 8, the indefatigable C. C NWEZE JSC, citing ABIRU JCA said “Lawyers who misuse their knowledge of the law and legal procedure to stultify the process of administration of justice are a disappointment and constitute a clog to the progress of the legal profession”. There is nothing to add to this potent words of the erudite law lord.
Finally, in WASSAH VS. KARA (2015) 4 NWLR (PT.1449)374 @385,RATIO 13,the Supreme Court per BODE RHODES VIVOUR J.S.C declared “Law is blind. It has no eyes. It cannot see. That explains why a statue of a woman with her eyes covered can be found in front of some high courts. On the contrary, justice is not blind. It has many eyes,it sees, and sees very well”.
Dear colleagues, as the courts shall be resuming in the new year, let us be adequately guided in our practice,such that as we come out of the court rooms, the lady of justice at the front of the courts shall be smiling at us. Season’s greetings and best wishes of the incoming 2019 in advance. God bless us all.
DUMGBARA N. S TORBARI ESQ.
(NBA LAGOS BRANCH).
Joseph Jagunmolu Ogunmodede is the Founder/CEO of THE LEGAL DIARY.
He is a Double First Class lawyer from the prestigious University of Ibadan and the Nigerian Law School. Joseph is an Associate at Udo-Udoma and Belo-Osagie with interest in Corporate Law, Energy Law, Real Estate Law and Commercial Litigation. Joseph is also a Chartered Mediator.