PRINCIPLES GUIDING COMMITTAL FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT

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CASE TITLE: MR. CHRISTIAN OBIUKWU v. JULIUS UGWUERUCHUKWU & ORS (2019) LPELR-46616(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: 14TH FEBRUARY, 2019.

PRACTICE AREA: CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE

LEAD JUDGMENT: ITA GEORGE MBABA, J.C.A.

SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:

INTRODUCTION

This appeal borders on Contempt Proceedings.

FACTS

This is an appeal against the Ruling of Imo State High Court, in the consolidated Suits No. HOR/12/74 and No. HOR/124/74, delivered on 31/6/2007 by Hon. Justice I.O. Agugua.

As at 30th July 1987, the learned trial judge, A.A. Ononuju J; had given judgment in the consolidated suits Nos. HOR/12/74 and HOR/124/74, to the effect that the Defendants therein (1st set of Respondents herein) were:

“…entitled to the Customary Right of Occupancy in respect of all that piece or parcel of land in dispute, ALA UMUAMA verged pink in plan No. FCO/D15/75 filed with their pleadings; That the portion of the land in dispute called “ALA IHEDIOKE” verged Yellow in Exhibit ‘B'; One Hundred Naira (N100.00) damages to the Defendants for trespass against the plaintiffs; One Thousand Naira (N1000.00) damages to the Defendants being value of Iroko and Anwusi trees cut by the plaintiffs; perpetual injunction Restraining the plaintiff, their servants and agents from further trespass on the said land or from acting in any way in violation of the Defendants rights over the said land. It is further ordered that the Plaintiffs pay costs of One Thousand Naira (N1000.00) to the Defendants.”

The claims (Reliefs sought) of the Respondents in the suit No. HOR/124/74, as per their Amended Statement of claim, filed on 21/5/84, were for among others, declaration of title to the piece and parcel of land known as “Ala Uhu Amo” including its little portion called Ala Ihendioke shown in the plan No. FCO/D15/75 filed with the statement of claim and situate and lying at Ibeama Ekwe within jurisdiction, damages and injunction.

But in 2001, Appellant said, due to changes in political configuration and arrangements in their community, the government created a new autonomous Community from the old Ekwe, and individuals indicated interest in the Ezeship of the new autonomous Community; that a total of three different panels or arbitrations were set up to resolve the issues of who to be/produce the Eze of the new Autonomous Community. Appellant said, it was this last decision that favoured him in the selection of the Eze that made the 1st set of Respondents to be against him and to resort to allegation of contempt of Court, and so they caused the Assistant Chief Registrar of the High Court to issue Form 48 against him (Appellant) and 5 others, dated 15/9/2006. And on 18/10/2006 they (1st set of Respondents) filed Form 49 against them (Appellant and the 5 others). The said Form 49 was issued and signed by the Respondent’s Counsel, instead of the Registrar of the Court.

Appellant had filed counter affidavit and also raised a preliminary objection to the contempt process. After hearing the parties on the preliminary objection, as well as the contempt proceedings, taken together, the trial Court dismissed the preliminary objection and found Appellant and the others guilty of contempt of the judgment of Court, delivered on 30/7/87. Being dissatisfied with the decision of the trial Court, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION

The Court determined the appeal based on the following issues for determination:

1) Whether the processes (Forms 48 and 49) filed by the Respondents complied with the law and/or were competent to sustain valid contempt or committal proceeding, and

2) Whether the issue of Leadership (Ezeship) contest which brought about the contempt/committal proceedings, formed part of the Judgment/Order of the Court in the consolidated suits No.HOR/12/74 and HOR/124/74, delivered on 30/7/87, to warrant the conviction of Appellant (and others) by the learned trial Judge Hon. Justice I.O. Agugua, on 26/6/2007 for contempt of Court?

DECISION/HELD

In the final analysis, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and set aside the decision of the trial Court, made on 26/6/2007, convicting Appellant and others for contempt of Court in the consolidated Suits Nos. HOR/12/74 and HOR/124/74.

RATIOS:

  • PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE- CONTEMPT OF COURT/COMMITTAL PROCEEDINGS: Importance of strict compliance with procedural rules in committal proceedings and effect of non-compliance thereof
  • PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE- CONTEMPT OF COURT/COMMITTAL PROCEEDINGS: Principles guiding committal for contempt of Court
  • COURT- DUTY OF COURT: Duty of Court to limit and confine itself to the issues raised by the parties

lawpavilion • March 4, 2019


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