Which Court has Exclusive Jurisdiction over Claims for Payment of Wages Due and Accrued to Crew/Seamen/Workers in the Maritime Sector?20 views
CASE TITLE: THE VESSEL MT SAM PURPOSE (EX MT. TAPTI) & ANOR v. BAINS & ORS (2021) LPELR-56460(CA)
JUDGMENT DATE: 5TH MARCH, 2021
PRACTICE AREA: JURISDICTION
LEAD JUDGMENT: ALI ABUBAKAR BABANDI GUMEL, J.C.A.
SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:
This appeal borders on the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court over claims for due wages of seamen.
This is an appeal against the ruling of the Federal High Court, Lagos, which was delivered by Faji, J.
At the trial Court, Respondents sought the following reliefs against Defendants/Appellants, jointly and severally:
(a) The sum of US $53,097.51 (Fifty-Three Thousand and Ninety-Seven United States Dollars, fifty-one cents) being crew wages due and owed the 1st-6th plaintiffs as crew and/or seamen that faithfully and diligently performed their duties on board MT SAM PURPOSE;
(b) The sum of US $5,000 (Five Thousand United States Dollars) being the cost of Admiralty Marshal expenses, cost of arrest and detention of the vessel;
(c) The sum of US $5,000 (Five Thousand US Dollars) as general damages; and
(d) Interest at the rate of 21% on the above sum from 16th October, 2015 until judgment and thereafter upon liquidation.
Plaintiffs/Respondents also filed an ex-parte motion seeking for the following reliefs:
“1. An order arresting and/or detaining the vessel MT. Sam Purpose (Ex MT Tapti) lying at Lagos Anchorage or any other place she may be found within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court pending the provision of a satisfactory bank Guarantee from First Bank Ltd. Or Zenith Bank Plc by the Defendants to secure the Plaintiff’s claim for the sum of $63,097.51 USD (Sixty-Three Thousand and Ninety-seven United State Dollars, fifty-one cent) as endorsed on the Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim.
2. An order directing the Admiralty Marshal to seek the assistance of the Chief of Naval Staff, Nigerian Navy particularly the FOC, Western Naval Command or the Officer-in-charge NNS Beecroft and/or the Force Marine officer, Nigeria Police Force, Awolowo road, for assistance to detain the vessel MT Sam Purpose (Ex Mt Tapti) and her appurtenances lying at Lagos Anchorage or anywhere within the territorial jurisdiction of the Honourable Court.
3. An order directing the Admiralty Marshal to seek the assistance of the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency (NIMASA) for assistance to detain the vessel MT. Sam Purpose (Ex MT Tapti) and her appurtenances lying at Lagos Anchorage or any other place within the territorial jurisdiction of this Honourable Court pending the determination of this suit.”
The motion was supported by an 18-paragraph affidavit, and a written address. At a hearing of the trial Court, prayers 1 and 2 of the motion were granted in terms. The Defendants/Appellants entered a conditional appearance and filed a motion on notice, seeking the following reliefs:
“i. An order extending the time within which the Applicants may apply to discharge, vacate or set aside the arrest order of the vessel – MT SAM PURPOSE (Ex MT Tapti) – made by this Honourable Court on 8th September, 2017.
ii. An order discharging, vacating or setting aside the order arresting the vessel – MT SAM PURPOSE (Ex MT Tapti – made by the Honourable Court on 8th September, 2017.
iii. An order striking out this suit in its entirety.”
The motion was supported by a 25-paragraph affidavit and a written address. Upon being served with the motion, the Plaintiffs/Respondents responded and joined issues on it in a 12-paragraph counter-affidavit and a written address. The Defendants/Appellants further joined issues in a further affidavit in support and also reply filed a reply on points of law. The motion of the Defendants/Appellants was argued, and its ruling, the Court found no merit in it, and proceeded to dismiss it. Dissatisfied, the appellants appealed to the Court of Appeal.
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The issues for determination were:
1. Having regard to the relevant provisions of Section 254C (1) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) (Constitution), when considered against the backdrop of Respondents’ claim as endorsed on their Statement of Claim, whether the trial Court was not in grave error in dismissing the Appellants’ application dated 29th June, 2018 and assuming jurisdiction over the Respondents’ claim.
2. Whether the trial Court was not in grave error in applying the provisions of Section 91 of the Labour Act to assume jurisdiction over the Respondents’ claim, without considering and applying the provisions of Section 254C (1) of the Constitution.
3. Whether the learned trial Judge was not in grave error and wrong in assuming jurisdiction over the Respondents’ claim, when he held that no leave of Court was required to issue and serve the Writ of Summons on the 2nd Appellant.
4. Considering the non-service of the Respondents’ originating processes on the 2nd Appellant, whether the learned trial Judge was right to have assumed jurisdiction over the Respondents’ claim.”
In conclusion, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal.
- INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE – SECTION 254C (A) AND (K) OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION (AS AMENDED): Interpretation of Section 254c (a) and (k) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) regarding the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court over employment/labour matters
- JURISDICTION – JURISDICTION OF THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT: Exclusive jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court over claims for payment of wages due and accrued to crew/seamen/workers in the maritime sector
- JURISDICTION – JURISDICTION OF THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT: Whether the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court as conferred by the Constitution can be limited by the Labour Act or other Acts
- JURISDICTION – JURISDICTION OF THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT: Whether the Federal High Court has jurisdiction over claims for payment of wages due and accrued to crew/seamen/workers in the maritime sector