By: Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
In litigation practice in the High Court, many if not all the High Court Rules mandate front-loading of court processes at the time of instituting an action. There are advantages or benefits of this front-loading style foremost in my humble observation which is ‘time saving’.
However, the front-loading style is not yet adopted and or recognised in the various Magistrates/District Courts Rules (though I humbly recommend the introduction of this front-loading style in the Magistrates/District Courts Rules so as to save the precious time of the court. In this front-loading style, during trial, the party in the suit needs not lead his witness to narrate facts and evidence anymore during his examination-in-chief rather, he only adopts the court’s processes that he had already front-loaded. Then, since the other opposing party has had a prior service of the said court’s processes, then, it enables him to easily prepare his cross-examination questions without the need to necessarily seek adjournment to prepare his cross-examination questions.
Such counsel may have the discretionary power of the court used in his favour for granting his application for adjournment on any other ground or reason, but definitely should not be to enable him to prepare cross-examination questions over the witness’ statements on oath or the claims or counter-claims of the other party that he had been served with prior to the hearing date, else, he might be moving the mind of the court towards assuming him to be out to cause unnecessary delay to the proceedings or the trial, the act which the court might not succumb to.
This procedure of front-loading as I said earlier is not applicable yet to Magistrates Courts/District Courts to enable counsel to prepare cross-examination questions prior to the day fixed for trial/hearing and or defence.
Therefore, the aim of this paper is to humbly draw the attention of counsel especially young lawyers to the need for them not to apply the front-loading style to Magistrate/District Courts’ proceedings by taking their cross-examination questions immediately the other party takes his examination-in-chief questions in the interest of justice and so as to enable them to prepare adequately for their cross-examination questions by aiming to discredit the testimony/testimonies of the other party’s witness/witnesses or to observe critically some weaknesses in such testimonies.
In the proceedings before such Magistrate/District Courts, application for adjournment for the purpose of preparing for the cross examination is of right which the court must as a matter of interest of justice, grant, else, such decision reached by the court may be set aside on appeal on the ground of denial of fair hearing which is a constitutional right conferred on every person before a court of law or tribunal in both civil and criminal proceedings/trials respectively by virtue of section 36(1) and (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
Therefore, I humbly recommend that in proceedings before Magistrate/District courts, counsel should not rush into taking cross examination questions after the examination-in-chief of the other opposing party’s witness rather, should seek/apply for an adjournment to prepare for the cross-examination questions. More so, by cross-examination, it stands as one vital tool in discrediting and or proving facts by evidence or disputing the facts and or evidence of the other party either as the Plaintiff/Claimant or the Defendant in the suit. If the cross-examination is rushed (from my experiences as well as observations) it is likely to render or present the counsel/lawyer as incompetent or not being a master of his own professional field, which is not really a good insinuation.
I have also observed some lawyers rushing into cross-examination after examination-in-chief and such lawyer might fumble (with due respect, permit me to use this expression).
Finally, I humbly recommend that front-loading style as used in the High Court should be applicable to the Magistrate/District Courts. Therefore, there is need for the various Magistrate/District courts’ Rules to be amended or a practice direction to be passed by the appropriate authority to accommodate front-loading style in the Magistrate/District Courts in the interest of justice.
Nevertheless, until this recommendation is approved, counsel/lawyer should not rush justice as justice rushed is likely to lead to justice being denied or justice crushed and crashed, hence, counsel should be skillful by seeking/applying for an adjournment to prepare for his cross-examination questions since the examination-in-chief by the other party’s witness is verbal/oral and without any prior notice of those facts being front-loaded to the other party having to cross-examine based on the facts and evidence made or tendered in examination-in-chief and at this examination-in-chief, there are surprises by the other party being examined-in-chief which might (many of the times) require the party cross-examining him to criticize and or scrutinize and or verify those facts and evidence made and or tendered by the party examined-in-chief.
It is my humble opinion that if counsel can use this note/advice/recommendation made in this paper, it would go a long way in assisting him in his litigation practices before those Magistrates/District Courts. I also hope that this brief article is useful and helpful to litigation lawyers, especially the young lawyers seeking exposure to litigation practices.