Jun 7, 2016

Adenike Adetifa - Parties to an action: meaning of- nomenclature of.

Credit - uscourts.gov

“The apex court has held in Green v. Green that a person whose interest is involved or is in issue in an action and who knowingly choose to stand-by and let others fight his battle for him is equally bound by the result in the same way as if he was a party”.
For a non-lawyer, law student or person(s) with little to non-legal experience, stepping into a court room for the very first time might be a bit overwhelming, especially when such a person begins to witness the exchange of certain intricate terms & phrases between lawyers and the Judge(s). To sound less dramatic, such a person would literally feel as if they just got teleported into a completely different world with people dressed in flowing black gowns and wigs keep speaking in strange/alien languages. That at least was how my experience went the first time I witnessed a court proceeding and believe me when I say Nollywood movie courtroom scenes do not depict the real thing (No offence meant).

The parties to an action generally speaking, are persons whose names appear on the record of the court as plaintiffs or defendants. They are other times referred to as claimants, applicants, respondents, petitioners or appellant. In every action, there must always be at least two (2) sides. It would either be between claimant v. defendant, applicant v. respondent, petitioner v. respondent, or appellant v. respondent. A plaintiff who conceives that he has a cause of action against a particular defendant is entitled to pursue his remedy against that defendant. Majorly, the manner in which parties to an action are addressed will be dependent on factors such as; the cause of action, i.e. whether it is a civil or criminal action; the type of court, i.e. whether it is before a Magistrate Court or High Court; and the nature of the action i.e. whether it is an originating action or an appeal to an appellate court.

A claimant/plaintiff/petitioner/applicant/appellant is that party that files a civil or criminal action, an application or petition in a court of law or seeks to appeal the decision from same and to assert a right or demand while the defendant/respondent is the party sued for such right or demand. An application made during the pendency of the substantive suit could proceed from either the claimant or defendant depending on the circumstances of the case. Where a party is unsatisfied with the decision of a lower court, be it a final judgment or an interlocutory ruling, such party can file for an appeal challenging either the whole or a part of such decision at an appellate court of competent jurisdiction. The party who files such an appeal is called the appellant while the other party becomes the respondent.

In some actions, parties are referred to as judgment creditor, judgment debtor or garnishee. The judgment creditor is the party that obtained the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction in his favour while the judgment debtor is the party that the decision was made against. The garnishee on the other hand is party in whose custody the judgment debtor has money or any assets which the judgment creditor now intends to attach and sell and use to fulfill the judgment of the court. This sort of action usually occurs when a court of competent jurisdiction gives a final judgment in respect of an action. Where such judgment is in respect of monetary reliefs, the winning party can institute a fresh action (the court becomes functus officio (this is a Latin word that refers to the court or person having fulfilled his/her/its function or accomplished the purpose set) upon pronouncing a judgment and cannot revisit the action) i.e. garnishee proceedings and make an application to the court to have the assets of the losing party attached to fulfill the judgment debt.

Ordinarily, the main reason for the necessity in making a person a party to an action in court is so that he would be bound by the result of the action in the judgment of the court. Where an action is instituted in a court of competent jurisdiction, the trial judge becomes dominus litis (the person who makes the decision in a lawsuit) and assumes under the relevant Civil Procedure Rules the duty and responsibility to ensure that the proceeding accord with the justice of the case by joining as plaintiffs or defendants at any stage of the proceedings, all the persons who may be entitled to, or who may be likely to be affected by the result if they have not already been made parties.

Parties to an action can be classified into proper parties; necessary parties; and desirable parties and the category a party falls into is determined by the degree of interest of such party in the cause of action. While proper parties are those who though not interested in the plaintiff’s claim are made parties for good reason, e.g. where an action is brought to rescind a contract, any person is a proper party to it who was active or concurred in the matte which gave the plaintiff the right to rescind, desirable parties are those who have an interest or who may be affected by the result. Necessary parties on the other hand are those who are not only interested in the matter in the subject matter of the proceedings, but who may be bound by the result of the action and who in their absence the proceedings could not be fairly, effectively and completely dealt with.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the principle that guides the court in joining any person as a party to a suit is whether the entry of such person(s) as party to the suit will enable the court effectually and completely adjudicate upon and settle all questions in the suit.

I hope this write up was beneficial to you. You are welcomed to leave your questions, comments, constructive criticism, suggestions, new ideas, contributions etc in the comment section or my email address which is thelawdenike@gmail.com I look forward to reading from your comments.

1.     Green v Green (1987) 3 NWLR PART. 61 P. 480
2.     Inyang v. Ebong (2002) 2 NWLR PART. 751 P. 284 @ P. 340
3.     Black’s law dictionary, 9thEd West publishing Co.

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Ed's Note: This article was originally published here