STANBIC IBTC BANK PLC v. L.G.C. LTD: On Whether a Judgment that Correctly Represents what the Court Decides can be Varied

An insight into the Supreme Court landmark decision.

CITATION: [2020]2 NWLR PT.1707 AT 1.

Courtesy: Moruff O. Balogun Esq.

Summary of Facts

By its motion dated the 15th day of March 2019, the applicant sought an order of the Supreme Court setting aside its judgment which dismissed its appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal and for a further order setting down the appeal for a re-hearing.

The grounds of the application were, inter alia, that there was a miscarriage of justice in that the Supreme Court reached its decision without a consideration of the appellant’s brief of argument at the Court of Appeal. Further, that the interest of justice warranted a re-hearing of the appeal. The appellant, however, did not bring the matter under any of the Circumstances under which the court will review or set aside its judgment and re-hear an appeal.

In opposing the application, the respondents posited that by virtue of Order 8 rule 16 of the Supreme Court Rules, the court could not set aside or vary the judgment as it had become functus officio.

Further, that effect had been given to the judgment as the applicant had paid the sum of N500, 000 costs to the respondents. That the application was an abuse of court process, that all the submissions in the appellant’s brief of argument were duly considered by the court, and finally, that there was no miscarriage of justice to the applicant.

In resolving the appeal, the Supreme Court considered the provisions of Order 8 Rule 16 of the Supreme Court Rules, which states:
“The Court shall not review any judgment once given and delivered by it save to correct any clerical mistake or some error arising from any accidental slip or omission, or to vary the judgment or order so as to give effect to its meaning or intention. A judgment or order shall not be varied when it correctly represents what the court decided nor shall the operative and substantive part of it be varied and a different form substituted”.

HELD: Unanimously dismissing the application.

The following issues were raised and determined by the Supreme Court:

On Whether a judgment that correctly represents what the court decides can be varied –
There is a total prohibition from review of a judgment which correctly represents what the court decided. Such a judgment shall not be varied. In the instant case, the Supreme Court meticulously reviewed all the issues canvassed in appeal No. SC.535/2013, and the judgment delivered thereon on 18th January 2019 represented the clear intention of the court. It could therefore not be appealed against to any other authority in line with section 235 of the 1999 Constitution, or reviewed by the court.

On When the Supreme Court can set aside its judgment and re-hear an appeal –
The Supreme Court has the power and the leeway to set aside its judgment, and rehear a case under these circumstances:
Where there is a clerical mistake in the judgment or order;
Where there is an error arising from an accidental slip or omission;
Where there arises the necessity for carrying out its own meaning and to make its intention plain;
Where any of the parties obtained judgment by fraud or deceit;
Where such a decision is a nullity;
Where it is obvious that the court was misled into giving the decision under a wrong belief that the parties consented to it;
When judgment was given without jurisdiction;
Where the procedure adopted was such as to deprive the decision or judgment of the character of a legitimate adjudication;
Where the writ or application was not served on the other party, or there is denial of fair hearing;
Where the decision/judgment is contrary to public policy and will perpetuate injustice.

Aside from the foregoing circumstances, judgments of the Supreme Court cannot be reviewed. The court has no power to overrule, reverse or nullify its previous decisions whether on questions of substantive or procedural law.

On Whether judgment in a null proceedings can be set aside-
In a proceeding which is ab initio a nullity, nothing can be set aside out of it as there is nothing legally binding in it. One cannot build something on nothing and expect it to stand; it will certainly collapse.

On When a court will set aside its judgment –
The court does not have power enabling it to set aside its judgment. The court requires a strong case to be established before it will allow a judgment to be set aside even on the ground of fraud, and, unless the fraud alleged raises a reasonable prospect of success and was discovered since the judgment complained of, the action will be stayed and the application to set aside dismissed as vexatious. In the instant application, there was no slight chance of success by the applicant.

On Duty on Supreme Court to jealously guard against applications to set aside its judgment and reason therefor-
The Supreme Court must jealously guard against applications to set aside its judgment, otherwise a Floodgate would be opened for the bastardization of its judgment on flimsy grounds of application to set it aside.

On Effect of finality of every matter at the Supreme Court –
The finality of every matter before the apex court protects and guards it against unnecessary review and rehearsing or re-opening of cases that have been determined by it.

Courtesy:
Moruff O. Balogun Esq.
Ijebu Ode, Ogun State.
08052871414.

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