CLARK EJUREN (APPELLANT)
COMMISSIONER OF POLICE (RESPONDENT)
(1961) All N.L.R. 498
Division: Federal Supreme Court
Date of Judgment: 4th September, 1961
Case Number: FSC 88/1961
Before: Brett, AG. C.J.F.
Bellamy, AG. C.J. Lagos
Criminal Law-Appeal-Conflict of Evidence on Essential Fact-No finding by trial court on that Fact-Appellate Court must draw conclusion on that fact favourable to accused.
Appeal from High Court (West)
The appellant was the president of a "court" known as "Umukoko Court", which was constituted of the president and eleven members. In February 1960, as such president, the appellant adjudicated in an "action" brought against one of the prosecution witnesses for the recovery of £200 being a "bride price" paid by the plaintiff on the defendant's sister. The defendant refused to submit to the "jurisdiction" of the "Umukoko Court" and maintained that any claim against him should be brought in the Jesse Grade "C" Customary Court. The appellant then ordered that the defendant pay £15 "summons fees" to the plaintiff. The defendant also refused to comply with that order, whereupon the appellant ordered six men to hurl the defendant into a bowl filled with starch water. In the process the defendant was brutally treated; so much so that his sister, Eruana Onator, knelt before the appellant and sought mercy for her brother. She offered to pay £5 in part payment of the £15 demanded if her brother were released. This was done, and she paid the £5 to the appellant, who gave the defendant two weeks within which to pay the balance of £10. When the balance was demanded by the appellant, the matter was reported to the police.
The appellant was charged with stealing £5 the property of Eruana Onator, and also with another offence. He was convicted of both by the magistrate.
Notwithstanding the conflicting evidence, the magistrate made no specific finding that Eruana Onator did not part with the £5 voluntarily.
On appeal to the High Court the conviction of stealing was affirmed and the other conviction quashed.
The appellant then appealed to the Supreme Court against the conviction of stealing.
(1) If, on an appeal from conviction on a criminal charge, the record of evidence shows that the trial court heard witnesses who gave two conflicting versions of an essential fact and that the court failed to make any specific finding on that fact; the Supreme Court, as a court of appeal, cannot choose between the two versions of that fact in order to make a finding of fact against the appellant which the trial court did not make.
(2) In the absence of a specific finding by the trial court on an essential fact, on which conflicting evidence was adduced, the only conclusion an appellate court can draw from such conflicting evidence is that favourable to the accused person.
(3) Since, in this case, it had not been established that the appellant took the money from Eruana Onator without her consent, an essential element of the offence of stealing had not been proved.
Appeal allowed: Conviction quashed.
APPEAL from the High Court (West).
Ajose-Adeogun for the Appellant.
Omo-Eboh for the Respondent.
Hurley, C.J.N.R. (Delivering the Judgment of the court):-
The appellant was tried in the magistrate's court, Sapele, of stealing £5, the property of Eruana Onator and also of another offence. On appeal to the High Court, he was acquitted of the second offence, but the conviction for stealing was affirmed. He now appeals to this Court.
In his Judgment, the learned trial Magistrate said:-
In support of the charge, Prosecution called ten witnesses and their evidence may be summarised as follows:-That the accused was the president of a 'court' known as "Umukoko Court" and that the court was constituted by the president and eleven members. That on the 21st day of February, 1960, third prosecution witness was summoned to the court held at Amukpe. That at that sitting of the court, the accused acted as the president of the said court and in that capacity adjudicated in a suit brought by Michael Owhojero-third defence witness against third prosecution witness. The action was for the recovery of a sum of £200 being bride price paid by the plaintiff on defendant's sister-Eruana Onator-fourth prosecution witness. At the hearing of the said suit. third prosecution witness refused to submit to the jurisdiction of the
Umukoko Court and maintained that any claim against him by the plaintiff should be made in the Jesse Grade "C" Customary Court. Accused assured third prosecution witness that no court was greater than his court. Notwithstanding, third prosecution witness was unyielding to the jurisdiction of the court. Thereupon, accused conceded that if third prosecution witness, insisted on the case against him being heard in the Jesse Customary Court, he (third prosecution witness), there and then, should pay £15 being summons fees paid to the court by the plaintiff. third prosecution witness again declined to comply with the request. Thereupon, accused ordered six men to hurl third prosecution witness into a bowl filled with starch-water. In the process, third prosecution witness was brutally handled, so much so that his sister-fourth prosecution witness knelt before accused and sought for mercy on her brother. She offered to pay £5 in part payment of the £15, if only her brother could be released. Having received the £5 from fourth prosecution witness, accused ordered that third prosecution witness be released and gave him a period of two weeks within which to pay the balance of £10. Before the expiration of the time so give, accused demanded the balance of £10, from third prosecution witness, but the latter declined to comply. As a result of threat and of fear of what might follow third prosecution witness's refusal to comply with the demand of the accused, fourth prosecution sent petitions to the police and to the Jesse Customary Court.
After considering the evidence on both sides, the magistrate said that he believed the prosecution witnesses and disbelieved the defence witnesses, and, without making any specific findings of fact, concluded his Judgment by saying "I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that accused did commit the offences charged. Accordingly, I find as a fact that accused is guilty as charged on the two counts."
The Judgment of the High Court on this part of the Case was as follows:-
There was evidence before the learned trial Magistrate which he believed, that when the third prosecution witness refused to submit to the jurisdiction of Umukoko Court and to pay £15 summons fee to the third defence witness, he was ordered by the appellant to be made to sit in a bowl of starch water until he would pay the money. The third prosecution witness's sister, the fourth prosecution witness who was the subject of the action in the court and who was present, was afraid and she offered to pay the money in order to obtain the release of her brother. She paid £5 that day and the money was received by appellant. She was forced to pay the money for fear of the harm her brother might come to if the money was not paid and this vitiates consent on her part. She did not part with the money voluntarily and in the circumstances the appellant stole it.
The trial magistrate did not make any specific finding that the fourth prosecution witness did not part with the money voluntarily. Her evidence was that when she saw how her brother was being handled, she came forward and knelt before the accused and offered to pay £5 and asked if he would release her brother if she paid it, and the accused agreed and demanded the £5 and she paid it to him. The evidence of two other witnesses, the 2nd and third prosecution witnesses, also showed that the offer of £5 came from the fourth prosecution witness. The fifth prosecution witness said that when the fourth prosecution witness knelt down and begged the accused he asked her how much money she had with her and when she replied that she had £5 he asked her to produce it, which she then did. But in summarising the evidence in the passage in his Judgment which we have quoted, the magistrate followed the evidence of the second, third and fourth prosecution witnesses and not that of the fifth prosecution witness. The trial magistrate did not find as a fact that the fourth prosecution witness was forced to pay the money, and on the evidence as his summary shows he saw it he must have found, if he had made a specific finding, that the fourth prosecution witness offered the money. And this Court, as an appeal court, cannot choose between the two versions of what took place in order to make a finding of fact against the appellant which the trial court did not make. In the absence of a specific finding by the trial magistrate, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence as the magistrate saw it is that the fourth prosecution witness was a volunteer. Thus it has not been established that the appellant took the £5 from her without her consent, and an essential ingredient of the offence of stealing has not been proved against the appellant. It was argued that the offence would not have been stealing even if the money had been paid in consequence of a demand made by the appellant, but it is unnecessary for us to express an opinion on that question. The appeal is allowed.
Appeal allowed; Conviction quashed.