Attitude of Court on Involving Law Enforcement Agencies in Civil Disputes by Litigants, Lawyers

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CASE TITLE: GTB PLC v. OHABENYI (2023) LPELR-60580 (CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: 23RD JUNE, 2023

PRACTICE AREA: CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

LEAD JUDGMENT: OLABODE ABIMBOLA ADEGBEHINGBE, J.C.A.

SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:

INTRODUCTION:

This appeal borders on Fundamental Rights Enforcement.

FACTS:

This appeal emanated from the judgment of the High Court of Benue State, Makurdi Judicial Division, Coram: A. O. Onum, J., on April 13, 2010.

The respondent was a customer of the appellant’s Makurdi Branch in Benue State. Things were so good and bright that the appellant granted the respondent a credit facility in the sum of N77,000,000.00 (Seventy-Seven Million Naira) in 2008. There was an allegation that the respondent defaulted in the repayment of the credit facility, which the appellant claimed amounted to criminal conduct and reported the matter to the police through a letter written by her solicitor. The respondent was arrested by the police.

In consequence of the arrest and detention of the respondent by the police, acting on the petition authored on behalf of the appellant her solicitor, the respondent sued both the appellant and the Commissioner of Police, Benue State, as the 1st and 2nd respondents, respectively. The suit was commenced by the force of a motion of ex-parte, filed on September 1, 2009.

The appellant and the erstwhile 2nd respondent were served with the motion on notice filed upon the grant of leave to the respondent to proceed under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement procedure against the respondents. Both respondents in the suit, with serial No. MHC/1150M/2009, filed processes.

The Court in its considered judgment, granted the application against the respondents. The appellant promptly appealed against the discomfiting judgment of the trial Court.

ISSUE(S) FOR DETERMINATION:

The Court raised suo motu the issue of the propriety of altering the names of affected parties in an appeal without seeking leave of Court.

The Court, however, determined the merit of the appeal on the following lone issue, as distilled by the Appellant:

“Whether the fact that the relationship between the parties was contractual precluded Appellant from filing a complaint to the Police, when the conduct of Respondent disclosed reasonable suspicion of the commission of criminal offences under SS. 308 and 311 of the Penal Code and if so, whether the trial Court’s finding that Appellant’s complaint was also mala fides was justified in the face of the decision of the Police to proceed with her investigation into Appellant’s allegation of criminal conversion at the close of Respondent’s Fundamental Rights action?”

DECISION/HELD:

The appeal was struck out for being incompetent on the basis of the issue raised suo motu by the Court. However, having considered the merit of the appeal, the appeal was dismissed for lacking merit.

RATIOS:

  • APPEAL- NOTICE(S) OF APPEAL: Requirement(s) of the law as regards amendment of names of parties in a notice of appeal
  • APPEAL- PARTIES TO APPEAL: Whether it is appropriate to omit the name of a party affected by a judgment or order of a Court in a notice of appeal filed to challenge same.
  • APPEAL- NOTICE(S) OF APPEAL: Effect of exclusion of the name(s) of party(ies) directly affected by an appeal in a notice of appeal.
  • CONSTITUTIONAL LAW- BREACH OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS: Whether failure of an applicant for the enforcement of fundamental rights to join the police who effected his arrest and detention will be fatal to his case.
  • CONSTITUTIONAL LAW- ENFORCEMENT OF FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS: Who can bring an application for enforcement of fundamental rights; jurisdiction and power of the High Court to hear and determine such an application.
  • CONSTITUTIONAL LAW- RIGHT TO PERSONAL LIBERTY: Circumstances in which a person may be deprived of his right to personal liberty.
  • COURT- RAISING ISSUE(S) SUO MOTU: Circumstance(s) in which a court may raise an issue suo motu.
  • CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE- ARREST: Whether in an allegation of unlawful arrest and detention it is the legality or constitutionality of the arrest and not the length of time the applicant was detained that the Court considers.
  • CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE- ARREST: Instigating the arrest and detention of a party may be considered an unlawful act.
  • CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE- ARREST: Test to determine the legality of an arrest.
  • EVIDENCE- BURDEN OF PROOF/ONUS OF PROOF: Burden of proving unlawful arrest or detention; how same is discharged.
  • POLICE- POWERS OF THE POLICE: Attitude of court towards involving the police or law enforcement agencies in civil disputes by citizens/legal practitioners.
  • TORT- MALICIOUS PROSECUTION: Meaning of malice.

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