On Propriety & Validity Of Making An Application For Adjournment By Mere Letter Writing

“One must not lose sight of the fact that Appellant’s Issue One is essentially concerned with whether an adjournment in Court can be granted by a letter written to the Court through the Registrar of Court and whether such act constitutes disrespect to the Court as to warrant condemnation and damnation of Counsel. It seems to me that an answer to the first leg of the question in Appellant’s Issue One directly affects the second portion or the subsidiary leg of the question. Learned Senior Counsel for the Appellant has demonstrated through the cases of: IBHADE NIGERIA LIMITED VS. AKWARI (2015) 13 NWLR (PT. 1477) 507 at 523, 532, 533 and 534; UDO VS. THE STATE (1988) 3 NWLR (PT. 82) 316 at 319; KAWU VS. KAWU (1997) 3 NWLR (PT. 494) 500 at 501; CEEKAY TRADERS LIMITED VS. GEN. MOTORS COMPANY LIMITED (1992) 1 NSCC (PT. 1) 180 (1992) 2 NWLR (PT. 222) 132; ETIM VS. R. T. P. C. N. (2004) ALL FWLR (PT. 227) 574 at 586; OPARA VS. CHINDA (1996) 2 NWLR (PT. 432) 527 at 537 amongst others that both the Apex Court and this Honourable Court are unanimous in the approval of writing of letter of adjournment contrary to the position of the trial Court.

As against these authorities, learned Counsel for the Respondents placed reliance on the decision of the Supreme Court in P. C. N. VS. ETIM (2017) (PT. 1581) 13 NWLR PG. 1 at PAGES 41 – 42 for the proposition that a letter is not a legal document but an administrative device to seek adjournment and that “Even if it is placed before the learned trial Judge, the best the learned trial Judge could do was to discountenance it”.

Suffice to say, that the Supreme Court in the P. C. N. VS. ETIM’s case did not disallow the use of a letter for the purpose of seeking an adjournment in Court neither did the Court lay down a general proposition as suggested by the learned Counsel for the Respondents that “Even if it is placed before the learned trial Judge, the best the learned trial Judge could do was to discountenance it”.

A careful perusal of the Judgment of the Supreme Court per I. T. Muhammed, JSC especially at Pages 41 to 43 of the NWLR would reveal two broad statements of principles.

The first is that the grant or refusal of application for adjournment even where one is properly placed before a Court is entirely within the discretion of a Judge.

The second is that processes that are not formally filed in Court including documents such as letter of adjournment are purely administrative and have no force of law.

On the peculiar facts of the case before the Court, the Supreme Court held at Page 41 of the Report that: “There is nothing to show that the said letter or documents (P. 30 of the Record of Appeal) was laid before the trial Court for a consideration. Neither the Respondents nor his Counsel or his Representative, nor even the Registrar of the Court (to whom the letter was addressed) intimated the Court of the pendency of that letter, which incidentally, was written (and may have forwarded to the Registrar of Court that same date?).

Nothing in the Record of Appeal to indicate acknowledgement of the said letter by the Registrar of Court. Again, the reasons stated in the Brief of Argument for the Respondents are quite different from the reasons stated in the letter of adjournment…….” At Page 43 of the Nigerian Weekly Law Report, the learned Supreme Court Justice restated the exact reasons for the decision reached in the case of REGISTERED TRUSTEES, P.C.N. VS. ETIM (Supra); “Here again, it should be observed that all the Court is emphasizing is that the template of justice must not be one-sided but for the parties on both sides.

It is to be remembered that all opportunities were given to the Respondent by him on Notice, was going to be heard on a given date.

There was a confirmed proof of service by the trial Court’s Chief Bailiff upon which the trial Court relied to proceed to grant the Motion as prayed. Nothing was placed before that Court by way of appearance by any other Counsel from the lead Counsel’s Chambers or a counter Affidavit filed.

The purported letter sent to the Registrar of Court for adjournment was never placed before the learned trial Judge. The discretionary power exercised by the learned trial Judge was in my view lawful. The Respondent having been given that opportunity to be heard of which he failed to avail himself, cannot now complain of breach of fair hearing.” From the foregoing, the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of REGISTERED TRUSTEES, P.C.N. VS. ETIM (Supra) manifestly favours the contention of the learned Senior Counsel for the Appellant that both this Court and the Supreme Court approved the use of a letter as a mode of applying for an adjournment.

However, from the peculiar facts of the P. C. N. VS. ETIM (Supra) case there was no evidence from the Record that the letter of adjournment sent to the Registrar of Court was in fact shown to the learned trial Judge who consequently granted the interlocutory injunction in issue in that case against the Respondents.

It follows in the instant case that the learned trial Judge was on a wrong legal footing when he refused to grant the Appellant adjournment on 21/06/2016 on the ground that: “a letter is clearly not a proper mode of applying to Court for adjournment……”.

Relatedly, because the exercise of the learned trial Judge’s discretion not to grant an adjournment on 21/06/2016 was not exercised judicially, the strictures on the learned Senior Counsel for the Appellant on the basis that the writing of letter to the Court for an adjournment constituted disrespect to the Court was unjustified, unwarranted and unfair. Issue One is resolved in favour of the Appellant.” Per Owoadegg, J.C.A. (Pp. 18-23, Paras. E-E).

Egbewole v. Adeleke & Ors (2018) LPELR-44857(CA)