Justice Doris Okuwobi of an Ikeja High Court has fixed April 13 for judgment in a suit filed by an activist-lawyer, Tope Alabi, challenging the powers of the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke, over the introduction and the sale of seals in the High Court and Magistrate Court registries.
Justice Okuwobi fixed the date after parties had argued their various application before the court.
Other defendants in the matter are the Chief Registrar, the Lagos State Judicial Service Commission, Lagos State Judiciary and the Attorney-General of Lagos.
Arguing his application before the court, Alabi said there was no law establishing the seal.
He argued that the Chief Judge’s letter to judicial staff to carry out sale of seal is of no effect.
According to him, “the letter introduced tax in form of revenue”, contending that “any revenue or tax must be provided for in a written substantive law”.
But counsel to the first, third and fourth respondents, Prof. Taiwo Osipitan (SAN) argued that the Chief Judge has powers to introduce the seal.
Osipitan said the seals are designed to checkmate activities of non-lawyers and unscrupulous persons involved in the use of affidavits, which they passed off as having been sworn to at the registries of Magistrates and High Courts.
He told the court that the secured seal applies only to affidavits and do not apply to other court processes filed in the registries of the Lagos State High Court.
He said contrary to the claimant’s position, receipts are issued for every secure seal paid for by litigants and deponents respectively.
Osipitan urged the court to discountenance the claimant’s submission, saying that he has not disclosed reasonable cause of action in the suit.
Counsel to the Attorney-General, the fifth defendant, Adebayo Saliu, aligned with the submission of the learned silk.
The Lagos State judicial Service Commission, which is the second defendant, was not represented.
In his originating summons, Alabi is seeking a declaration that the introduction and sale of seals and non-acceptance of his processes for filing on the basis that there were no seals on them is illegal and unconstitutional.
Alabi said the court officials’ insistence that he must buy the seal and attach it to his supporting affidavits amounts to denying him and his clients access to justice.
He is praying for an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the defendants or their agents from compelling litigants to purchase the seal when filing cases, processes or deposing to affidavits.
He also wants the court to perpetually restrain the defendants or their agents from further producing or supplying the seals.
The lawyer urged the court to determine whether, based on its rules and the 1999 Constitution, its officials can validly force litigants to buy the seals for N250 before they can file documents in court.
Alabi said in all the laws, statutes and rules governing the court’s affairs, there was no legal basis for imposing the sale of the seals on court users.
“The defendants cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand,” he said in his written address.
Alabi also files a motion ex-parte praying for an order of interim injunction restraining the defendants from compelling him and other litigants to purchase the seal.
In a supporting affidavit, which he personally deposed to, Alabi said he was at the court’s Lagos division on October 31 to file a motion for change of counsel.
In addition to the regular charges, he said he was charged additional N250 for a seal affixed to his affidavit in support of the motion.
He said he complained to the Assistant Chief Registrar, who he claimed informed him that “the order was from above and that it was beyond him. “I was also at the Lagos Judicial division of the High Court of Lagos State on the 6th day of November, 2017 for filing of affidavit of service. The court officials, precisely the cashiers, denied me filing on ground that I did not give them the sum of N250 for the seal,” he said.
Alabi said having complied with the pre-action requirements, “it is in the interest of justice to restrain the defendants from compelling the claimant or any legal practitioner or litigant to purchase the seals”.