CHRISTIAN CHUKURA (DEFENDANT/APPELLANT)
VINCENT IGHODARO (PLAINTIFF/RESPONDENT)
(1963) All N.L.R. 629
Division: High Court (West)
Date of Judgment: 29th October, 1963
Case Number: (Civil Appeal No. 1/40A/63)
Before: Quashie-Idun, C.J.
Appeal from magistrate's court.
The plaintiff's/respondent's claim against the defendant/appellant was for the return of a Prefect Car wrongfully seized and the sum of £3-10s per day as damages. The claim for damages was later amended by substituting a claim for £50 damages for the wrongful seizure of the car. At the commencement of the trial before a Senior Magistrate, and before the writ was amended, Counsel for the defendant/appellant submitted that as the total amount involved exceeded £200 the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case. The objection was overruled and the hearing continued. Before the close of the case the Senior Magistrate was appointed Chief Magistrate.
He, nevertheless, continued with the case. Judgment was entered for the return of the Car or its value of £230. The defendant/appellant appealed to the High Court, on the grounds, inter alia, that (1) the trial Magistrate erred in law in hearing the case when he had no jurisdiction to do so, and (2) the procedure adopted by the trial Magistrate in continuing the trial after he had been appointed Chief Magistrate was irregular.
(1) Under the W.N. Magistrate's Court Law, Cap. 74, section 19(2) a Senior Magistrate has no jurisdiction to try a case in which the amount involved exceeds £200; consequently, the trial Magistrate had no jurisdiction to hear the case.
(2) Where a Senior Magistrate, without jurisdiction, begins the hearing of a case, and is later invested, during the continuance of the case, with jurisdiction by virtue of his appointment as a Chief Magistrate, the case must be transferred from the Senior Magistrate's Court to the Chief Magistrate's Court and re-heard de novo; consequently the trial Magistrate had no jurisdiction to have continued the hearing of the case as Chief Magistrate.
Appeal allowed: Judgment of trail Court set aside.
Cases referred to:-
Rex v. Yekun, 4 W.A.C.A. 11.
Timitimi and others v. Chief Amabebe and another 14 W.A.C.A. 374.
Law referred to:-
W.N. Magistrates' Court Laws. 19(2).
APPEAL from magistrate's court.
Chukura for the Defendant/Appellant.
Ige for the Plaintiff/Respondent.
Quashie-Idun C.J.:-The original action instituted by the plaintiff/respondent against the defendant appellant was for the return of a Prefect Car wrongfully seized and the sum of £310s per day as damages. The claim for damages was later amended by substituting a claim for £50 damages for the wrongful seizure of the car. At the beginning of the trial before the Senior Magistrate Oduhlami, and before the writ was amended, Counsel for the defendant raised the question of jurisdiction and submitted that as the total amount involved in the plaintiff's claim stood, the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case. The objection was overruled. Evidence was given by the plaintiff that the value of the car was £230 and the trail Court accepted that evidence and entered judgment for the return of the car or its value £230. The court however dismissed the claim for general damages. Against the judgment, the defendant/appellant has appealed and on his behalf his Counsel has argued the following grounds:-
(1) The learned Magistrate erred in law in hearing the case when he had no jurisdiction to do so.
(2) The learned Magistrate misdirected himself when he held that the fourth defence witness admitted he made mistake on his own side.
Counsel for the appellant has pointed out to the court that as Senior Magistrate, Mr Odunlami as he then was at the beginning of the trial had no jurisdiction to hear the case and that under the Magistrate's Court Law, Cap. 74 section 19, subsection 2 the jurisdiction of the Senior Magistrate in civil case does not exceed £200. It is observed from the record of proceedings that after the objection to the jurisdiction had been overruled, Mr Odunlami as Senior Magistrate took evidence of the plaintiff who closed his case on the 11th of May, 1961. On the 6th of June, 1961, Mr Odunlami continued the hearing but at that time he had been appointed Chief Magistrate. It has been submitted on behalf of the appellant that the procedure adopted by Mr Odunlami in continuing the trial after he had been appointed Chief Magistrate, was irregular. Learned Counsel for the appellant has referred to the case of Rex v. Yekun, 4 W.A.C.A. at 11. In that case the appellant was tried by a magistrate who after hearing evidence was appointed an Acting Judge of High Court. Without an order of a transfer of the case, the Acting Judge continued to hear it and convicted the appellant. It was held that the trial and the proceedings were void. I think that although the decision of the Court of Appeal was in a criminal case it could be applied to the present case which is a civil case. In the first place Mr Odunlami as Senior Magistrate had no jurisdiction to try the case in which the amount involved exceeded the sum of £200. In the second place, as the case was not transferred to the court of the Chief Magistrate, Mr Odunlami had no jurisdiction to have continued the hearing as Chief Magistrate. In the third place the trial of the case by Mr Odunlami as Senior Magistrate was without jurisdiction and therefore the proceedings before him were void. He therefore could not continue with the trial as Chief Magistrate. Even if the case had been transferred from the Senior Magistrate's Court to the court of Chief Magistrate, it should have been heard de novo. In the case of Timitimi and others versus Chief Amabebe and another 14 W.A.C.A. at 374, it was held that an inferior court is not presumed to have any jurisdiction but that which is expressly provided. Although Mr Ige indicated to the court that he could not support the judgment on the issue of jurisdiction I decided to deliver a written judgment as the points raised in this appeal are of some importance.
For the reason stated by me, I allow the appeal and set aside the judgment. I think however that the plaintiff should be at liberty to institute fresh action and for this reason I have refrained from dealing with the facts of the case. I award cost to the appellant in this Court assessed at 25 guineas. Any costs paid by the appellant at the magistrate's court are to be refunded.
Appeal allowed: Judgment of the court set aside.