By Moruff O. Balogun Esq.
Summary of facts
The respondents instituted the action leading to this appeal before the High Court of Oyo State challenging the appointment of the 1st appellant as the Eleruwa of Eruwa. The originating processes were titled: In the High Court of Justice Oyo State, Eruwa Judicial Division Holden at Eruwa” instead of Ibarapa Judicial Division.
Held: (Unanimously dismissing the appeal)
ON WHETHER HEARING A SUIT UNDER A WRONG JUDICIAL DIVISION VITIATES THE SUIT:
Labeling of a suit under a wrong or non-existing judicial division is a misnomer or anomaly. That anomaly cannot vitiate the entire proceeding in the suit. For such misnomer or anomaly to vitiate the proceeding would amount to applying sheer technicality to defeat the course of justice. In the instant case, the suit bears Eruwa Judicial Division and Eruwa happened to fall under Ibarapa Division. Since there was only one High Court in Oyo State which covered the judicial division, the error amounted to a mere misnomer. Also, the appellants failed to show in what manner they were over-reached by the mere heading of the suit as Eruwa Judicial Division instead of Ibarapa Judicial Division.
ON PURPOSE OF JUDICIAL DIVISIONS OF COURTS AND WHETHER LABELING A CASE UNDER A WRONG JUDICIAL DIVISION WILL VITIATE A CASE:
Judicial Divisions are mere administrative units created by the head of court for ease of bringing justice closer to the grassroots or the nooks and crannies of the state. A valid judgment of a High Court of a state will not be set aside merely because of any misstatement about the Judicial Division it sat to conduct its judicial functions. The judgment enjoys presumption of regularity under section 168(1) Evidence Act, 2011.
In the instant case, the appellants complained that the heading of the processes, to wit: In the High Court of Justice Oyo State, Eruwa Judicial Division Holden at Eruwa had rendered the suit incompetent as there was no Judicial Division of Oyo State high Court known administratively, as “Eruwa Judicial Division”. There was no dispute that, in actuality the Oyo State High Court of Justice was sitting at Eruwa. In any case, Oyo State High Court was established under or pursuant to the provisions of the 1979 Constitution, (as amended). It was supposed to be one High Court with several Judges sitting in various courtrooms all over the State. The territory of Oyo State established pursuant to section 3 of the said 1979 constitution, (as amended), is defined in the First schedule to the said Constitution. It was not the case of the appellant that the Oyo State High Court Holden at Eruwa was exercising extra-territorial jurisdiction. Thus the High Court of Oyo State, sitting at Eruwa operated within its territorial jurisdiction.
ON PURPOSE OF DIVISION OF COURT INTO JUDICIAL DIVISIONS:
By virtue of section 32 of the High Court Law of Oyo state, Cap.55, Laws of Oyo State of Nigeria, 2000, for the more convenience dispatch of business the court may sit in two or more divisions and the Chief Judge may divide the state into divisions and assign any portion to any division and may designate such judicial division by name and shall direct one or more judges to sit in one or more judicial divisions. There is only one High Court of Justice in Oyo State and any judge can sit and adjudicate in any of the judicial divisions and the Chief Judge can create judicial divisions for administrative convenience even though the substantive jurisdiction resides in Oyo State High Court only. Similarly, any judge can sit anywhere or in any of the divisions created by the Chief Judge.
ON EFFECT OF FAILURE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT A MISNOMER:
The failure on the part of a party to complain on a misnomer amounts to a waiver.
Hence, he cannot be heard to complain after taking steps in the matter. In the instant case, the appellants willfully agreed for the suit to proceed at the trial Court without any hindrance or hesitation and hence they did not complain against the ‘wrong’ name of the division which is simply a mere irregularity that cannot attract the consequences of vitiating the proceedings. Thus, there was no reason to hold that the proceedings in the trial court were vitiated for such irregularity. After all, the appellant duly participated in the proceedings despite having prior knowledge of the misnomer or irregularity. They had therefore waived their right and could thus not be heard to complain at a later stage. Furthermore, the appellant acquiesced in the alleged irregularity by participating in the proceedings and filing processes with the defective heading. It was too late to complain, having submitted themselves to the court’s jurisdiction. They were deemed to have waived their right to challenge the irregularity.
Moruff O. Balogun, Esq.
Ijebu Ode, Ogun State.