“A party is entitled as of right to the consideration of his case before the court”.
Courts are recognized and renowned as the hallowed chambers of justice, where even-handed justice is meted out to all and sundry, without sentiment, emotion, favoritism or being unnecessarily embroiled in crass legalism. They are not only courts of law but courts of equity. As discussed in an earlier post, a party is entitled to fair hearing before a court and where there is a breach of the rule of fair hearing as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution (As Amended), the whole proceedings automatically become vitiated with a basic and fundamental irregularity, which renders such proceedings null and void. The test of fair hearing is the impression of a reasonable person who was present at the trial- whether from his observation, justice has been done in the case.
In Nigeria, the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) divides the structure of government into three arms – the legislative; the executive and the judiciary. By the provision of Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended), judicial powers are vested in the courts. Courts are authorized by law to exercise jurisdiction at first instance and on appeals on all actions and proceedings relating to matters between persons, or between government or authority and any person in Nigeria to determine any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person. It is in line with this that we will be considering in this article, the issues of hierarchy and jurisdiction of courts in Nigeria.
1. THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
The Supreme Court of Nigeria which is the apex court in Nigeria was established in 1963 following the proclamation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the then 1960 Constitution which came into operation on October 1, 1963, following the abolition of Section 120 which abrogated the appellate jurisdiction of the judicial committee of the Privy Council which was Nigeria’s apex court.
The Court is now provided for in Section 230 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) and by this provision, the court consists of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and not more than 21(Twenty One) judges at all times. The court’s decision on any matter is final and binding on all other courts in Nigeria without any form of appeal to any other body or person. This of course is without prejudice to the powers of the President or the Governor of a State with respect to prerogative of mercy for any person convicted of an offence under any law in Nigeria. Likewise, the decision of the Supreme Court may be nullified by legislation and more importantly, the Supreme Court can overrule itself.
The Supreme Court which is presently situated in Abuja, Nigeria has original jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in certain disputes. The term “original jurisdiction” means it is the court of first instance and been the apex court in the country, it consequentially means no appeal can be heard in respect of those matters before another court in Nigeria. These matters includes: any dispute between the Federation and a State or between States if and in as far as that dispute involve any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends. The Supreme Court does not have original jurisdiction on any criminal matter and finally, it has jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in Nigeria to hear and determine any appeal from the Court of Appeal.
2. THE COURT OF APPEAL
The Nigerian Court of Appeal is the next court in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria. Unlike the Supreme Court which is situated only in Abuja, the Court of Appeal is divided into different judicial divisions and sits in certain states in Nigeria. It is established by Section 237 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended), headed by the President of the Court of Appeal and consists of not less than 49(forty-nine) judges at all times. The court has original jurisdiction to the exclusion of all other courts in Nigeria to hear and determine any question as to whether – any person has been validly elected to the office of the President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor in Nigeria; appeals from the Federal High Court, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, High Court of a State, Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Sharia Court of Appeal of a State, Customary Court of Appeal of a State, Court Martial and any other Tribunal.
Just like the finality of decisions in Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal also enjoys the finality of decisions on appeals lying to it from the decisions of the National and State Houses of Assembly election petitions and also appeal arising from any civil jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court.
3. THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT
Like the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court is divided into different judicial divisions for administrative convenience and sits in more than 15(fifteen) states in Nigeria. Section 249 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) provides for the establishment of the Federal High Court. The Federal High Court is headed by a Chief Judge and consists of such number of Judges as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly but is duly constituted if it consists of at least one Judge of the court. The Court has exclusive jurisdiction in civil cases and matters as set out under Section 251 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended).
It is important to note that the Federal High Court also has appellate jurisdiction and all the powers of the High Court of a State. The court shares concurrent jurisdiction with the State High Court in matters relating to banker-customer relationship, interpretation or application of the constitution and fundamental human rights enforcement cases.
4. THE HIGH COURT OF THE FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY (FCT)/ STATE HIGH COURT
There is a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja which caters for the FCT and High Court of a State. Section 255 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) provides for the establishment of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja while Section 270 provides for the establishment of a High Court for each State of the Federation. The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory and the State High Court individually is headed by the Chief Judge and consist of such number of Judges as may be prescribed by an Act of National Assembly (in respect of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja) or the State House of Assembly (in respect of the High Court of a State). A High Court has the widest jurisdiction under the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) in civil and criminal matters and has appellate jurisdiction over decisions of Magistrate Courts, Customary Courts, Area Courts etc.
5. NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT
The National Industrial Court is established by Section 254A of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended), headed by the President of the National Industrial Court and consist of such number of Judges as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly. Like the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court is also divided into different judicial divisions for administrative convenience which sits in some States in Nigeria. The exclusive jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court in civil causes and matters are set out in Section 254C of the 1999 Constitution and it has all the powers of the High Court of a State and an appellate jurisdiction.
6. SHARIA COURT OF APPEAL
There is a Sharia Court of Appeal for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja which caters for the FCT and State Sharia Court of Appeal. Section 260 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) provides for a mandatory establishment of a Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja while Section 275 provides for an optional establishment of a Sharia Court of Appeal for any State that requires it in Nigeria. Both courts are headed by a Grand Kadi and consist of such number of Kadis as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly for Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and the House of Assembly of a State for a State Sharia Court of Appeal. Both courts exercise appellate and supervisory jurisdiction in civil proceedings involving questions of Islamic personal law.
7. CUSTOMARY COURT OF APPEAL
Like the Sharia Court of Appeal, there is a Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and a Court of Appeal of a State. The Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory is established by Section 265 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) and caters for the FCT while Section 280 provides for the optional establishment of a Customary Court of Appeal for any State that requires it in Nigeria. Both courts are headed by President of the Customary Court of Appeal and consists of such number of Judges as may be prescribed by the National Assembly for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and the House of Assembly for any State that requires it. Both courts exercise appellate and supervisory jurisdiction in civil proceedings involving questions of customary law.
8. MAGISTRATE COURTS AND DISTRICT COURTS
Although not provided for in the 1999 Constitution (As Amended), it is established by the law of the House of Assembly of a State. A magistrate court is a court of summary judgment as matters are determined in this court without pleadings or briefs filed by the parties. In the Southern part of Nigeria, they are referred to as Magistrate courts but they are referred to as District courts in the Northern parts of Nigeria when they sit in their civil jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of a magistrate courts is provided for under the various magistrate court rules of each state establishing them.
We hope this write up was beneficial to you. We would like appreciate the effort and contribution of Mr. Ibiyemi Ajiboye an ex-law student of University of Ibadan towards this article. Readers of this article are welcomed to leave their questions, comments, constructive criticism, suggestions, new ideas, and contributions in the comment section or via our email- email@example.com. We look forward to reading your comments and contributions.
- 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
- Ugwa v. Lekwauwa (2010) 17 NWLR PART 1222 P.211@ 236 para D-E
- D.P. V K.S.I.E.C (2005) 15 NWLR PART 948 P.230 @ 254 para H-A
- I Efevwerhan, Principles of Civil Procedure in Nigeria, 2nd ed., Snaap Press Ltd, Enugu, 2013.
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