ADDRESS BY A.B MAHMOUD SAN, PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AT THE VALEDICTORY COURT SESSION OF THE COURT OF APPEAL IN HONOUR OF THE RETIREMENT OF HONOURABLE JUSTICE SOTONYE DENTON WEST JCA ON THURSDAY, 20TH OCTOBER, 2016
My Lord, the Chief Jusitce
My Lord the President of the Court of Appeal
Justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal
Judges of the various High Courts
Hon. Attorney General and Minister of Justice
Members of the inner and Utter Bar;
Family members of Hon. Justice Sotonye Denton-West
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
It is indeed a great honour and a privilege to be invited to speak at this special sitting of this Hon. Court to mark the retirement of Hon. Justice Sotonye Denton-West.
Hon. Justice Denton-West is easily one of the most ebullient personalities of this Court. She is always highly spirited and maintains a warm and caring relationship with people around her. I am delighted therefore, to make these remarks on behalf of the Nigerian Bar Association, but also on a personal note, to express on behalf of my wife Hon. Justice Mahmoud and myself our sincere warm wishes to my Lord as she bows out of the Bench of the Court of Appeal.
Hon. Justice Denton-West is truly a legal colossus. Her physical stature completely belies her large heart and giant legal mind and indeed her immense contribution to the development of the law in this country. Hon. Justice Sotonye Denton West’s journey in the legal profession commenced in 1967 when she was admitted into the University of Lagos where she obtained her Bachelor of Law degree in 1970 and was called to the Bar in 1971. From thence on, Hon. Justice Sotonye Denton West never had any cause to look back in an enviable legal and later judicial career. Throughout her career she demonstrated hard work, integrity, honesty and above all perseverance. She worked briefly in the Secretarial/Legal Department of the Nigerian National Ports Authority and later at the Manpower Board, Lagos State. She established her own law firm in 1973 from where she was elevated to the Bench as a High Court Judge in the Rivers State Judiciary in 1986. She was appointed acting Chief Judge in 2001 before she was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2005 where she recorded another feat as the first female indigene of Rivers State to be appointed to the Court of Appeal.
My Lord, Hon. Justice Sotonye Denton-West has made immense contribution to the development of Nigeria’s jurisprudence. She has a sharp legal mind and an acute sense of justice. These can be seen in a plethora of Judgments and Judicial pronouncements over the years. We have known her Lordship as a thorough, diligent and methodical judge. Her Lordship’s astuteness is responsible for the very erudite judicial pronouncements that she has made in the course of her career on the bench. Her judgments are lucid and rich in content. However, it is not only for her performance as a judge that she will be remembered. My Lord will be remembered for her humility and unimpeachable integrity.
My Lord, Hon. Justice Denton-West was the first female lawyer of Rivers State and first female Judge of Rivers State. She is also the recipient of several honours from distinguished bodies and associations in recognition of her outstanding achievements and invaluable contributions to the growth and development of the legal profession and the promotion of the rule of law. In recognition of her selfless service to the profession, My Lord, Hon. Justice Denton West was presented a Merit Award by FIDA in recognition of her service and support to FIDA, Rivers State as a grand patron.
Denton-West has a firm and clear sense of justice both procedural and substantive as can be easily discerned from several of her Judgments;
In Bank of Industry Limited & Ors v Prince Micheal Adewale-Adediran & Anor CA/AK/130/2012 the issue for determination was whether the court below rightly struck out the Appellants' Suit on the ground of improper service of the Originating processes on the Respondents.
My Lord agreeing with the lead judgment to set aside the judgment of the trial court had this to say
“There is no doubt whatsoever that the Appellant did not comply with the mode of service as prescribed by the provision of Order 6, Rule 2 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, 2009 which provides thus:
"Save as otherwise prescribed by these Rules, an originating process should be served personally by delivering to the person to be served a copy of the document, duly certified by the Registrar as being a true copy of the original process filed, without exhibiting the original thereof."
Meanwhile the record 'of proceedings shows that the originating summons were served by the court's bailiff on one T. O. Abiola, an accountant at Adeniran Steel and Wire Industry, Ilesha on 17/2/2007 who received the processes on behalf of the two Respondents, contrary to the aforementioned provision that states "shall be served personally...."
It is interesting to note that the end goal of this proviso is to ensure that the parties are adequately notified and prepared for the impending action, so as not to deny them their right of fair hearing as enshrined in the constitution.
Curiously enough, the trial Judge on page 25 of the Record of Appeal averred to the fact that the Respondents at the lower court did enter appearance and took part in the proceedings to the very end. To my mind, if this does not constitute a waiver then what else is?
Qui Tacet Consentire Videtur - He who is silent seems to consent.
In any case, the trial Judge even if excused for not deciding this act to amount to a waiver ought not to have ordered for a striking out as this would only make matters worse by creating substantial injustice to the Appellants.
It is on this premise that I also allow this appeal. This appeal is meritorious and likewise succeeds”.
Furthermore in Mohammed Salami V. Commissioner of Police CA/D7C27/2007, My Lord after considering the issues for determination stated that
“It was the contention of the appellant's counsel that the lower court was wrong to have affirmed the conviction of the appellant on the charge of conspiracy by the learned trial Magistrate, who relied on evidence of circumstances to draw inference of participation in the conspiracy to forge exhibit P4. I disagree with the contention of the learned counsel for the appellant on this point. I am in agreement with the court below in its affirmation of the finding of the learned trial Magistrate in that regard. The law is trite, that circumstantial evidence is the best evidence, once it meets the requirement of the law to qualify as such, namely;
1. It must be positive;
2. It must be direct;
3. It must be unequivocal; and
4. It must irresistibly and conclusively link the accused (here the appellant) with the commission of the offence See Uluebeka v. State (2000) 7 (Pt.665) 404; Akinmoju v. State (2000) 6 NWLR (Pt. 662)608 and Aigbadion v. State (2000) 7 NWLR (Pt. 666)705.
Justification for this has been found on the ground that, since offences or crimes are not things which are usually carried out in the open and since it will be practically abdicating its duty for a court to always wait for direct evidence or the confession of an accused before it can convict on a charge, reliance must be placed on evidence of circumstances as can be inferred from the facts of a case.
It must irresistibly and conclusively link the accused (here the appellant) with the commission of the offence: Uluebeka v. State (2000) 7 (Pt.665) 404; Akinmoju v. State (2000) 6 NWLR (Pt. 662) 608 and Aigbadion v. State (2000) 7 NWLR (Pt. 666)705.
Justification for this has been found on the ground that, since offences or crimes are not things which are usually carried out in the open and since it will be practically abdicating its duty for a court to always wait for direct evidence or the confession of an accused before it can convict on a charge, g reliance must be placed on evidence of circumstances as can be inferred from the facts of a case. This becomes even more imperative in the case of the offence of conspiracy which has secrecy as one its main ingredients”.
In PASTOR BODE AJAYI V SUNDAY AKINWUMI FAYAN (2014) LPELR-24344(CA) the issue was compensating a man whose reputation was injured by libelous publication. This is what Denton-West had to say
”My honest reaction to this is that though it is a notorious fact that people everywhere are as hungry for respect as they are hungry for bread, there isn't really a fixed price for the value of a man's true worth in award of damages in libel cases. A popular saying is that character makes the man therefore if one's character or reputation has been injured, is there really a price to adequately return it to status quo ante? I dare say NO. However, it is trite law that in assessing of damages in a defamatory case, the court must ensure that the award made is adequate to assuage the injury to the reputation, character and pride of the Plaintiff which were violated”
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE BAR
Throughout her career Hon. Justice Denton-West has maintained a pleasant and cordial relationship with the Bar. She always honored our invitations and was a guest at several NBA activities. I therefore wish to place on record our profound appreciation to Justice Denton-West for her invaluable support to the NBA over the years evidenced by the award of excellence presented to her by the Nigerian Bar Association Women Forum. I want to place on record the profound appreciation of the Nigerian Bar Association to My Lord, Hon. Justice Sotonye Denton West for her invaluable support to the Bar at all times.
STATE OF THE JUDICIARY
My Lords, distinguished ladies and gentlemen permit me digress a little. I am sure that many here will be expecting me to make further statements on the ongoing events affecting the nation’s judiciary. I have in the course of the last two weeks or so made several statements and remarks on these developments. Our position is therefore well known. We have emphasized our commitment to safeguarding the independence of the nation’s judiciary. We have also spoken firmly on our commitment to rid the judiciary and indeed the bar of all corrupt elements. I will like to say we remain resolute on these. In the course of the last several days, the NBA has continued to hold high level consultations with all segments of the bar and other stakeholders and indeed the administration on how to address what has obviously become a major concern to all Nigerians within and outside the country. That is corruption in the judiciary. On Thursday 13th of October at the meeting of bar leaders comprising past NBA Presidents, Past General Secretaries and past Attorneys –General of the Federation, we reviewed very carefully the developments after listening to detailed briefings from both the Attorney General and Minister of Justice as well the Secretary of the National Judicial Council. One of the resolutions we took was to set up a Task Force to urgently review the current developments and come up with clear specific recommendations on how best to clean up the nation’s judiciary and rebuild confidence of Nigerians in our law courts. I am expecting the report of that task force in two weeks. In the meantime we have continued with our consultations and engagements. We will be coming up with bold and clear recommendations which we will pass to the National Judicial Council and the Government.
In the interim however, particularly having regards to what appears to an ongoing accusations and counter accusations between the some of the Judges and other personalities or agencies, it appears to the NBA that it is extremely important that the NJC takes very urgent steps to safeguard the public image and sanctity of the courts. We therefore strongly recommend that, without prejudice to the innocence or otherwise of the Judges involved in the ongoing investigations, they should be required to recuse themselves from further judicial functions or required to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is fully and completely established or until the conclusion of all judicial or disciplinary proceedings. We believe this will be necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned and safeguard the public image of the institution.
My Lords, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, today is a day for celebrating years of meritorious service to our fatherland by Hon. Justice Sotonye Denton West. As your Lordship retires today, the Nigerian Bar Association thanks you for your life long service to the nation. We thank your immediate and extended family for their unceasing love, unalloyed support, during your career. Now is the time to be more patient with you, as they will see you often and enjoy you more now. We shall continue to reach out to you for advice and wisdom that the Almighty has endowed you with. May the Good Lord grant you good health and long life as you enjoy your retirement.
My Lords, ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you all for your kind attention.
A.B Mahmoud SAN
President, Nigerian Bar Association