OVERVIEW OF THE JURISDICTION OF THE COURT OF APPEAL IN NIGERIA

OVERVIEW OF THE JURISDICTION OF THE COURT OF APPEAL IN NIGERIA

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Home

Jurisdiction is the extent of the power of a court to hear and determine legal matters brought before it. The establishment and jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to determine legal matters are enshrined in Section 237 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).  The Court of Appeal is also regulated by the Court of Appeal (Amendment) Act 2013. In the hierarchy of courts, the Court of Appeal is the second-highest court in Nigeria, as it is a court of superior record.

Structure and Organization

The Court of Appeal is composed of the President of the Court of Appeal and a number of Justices not less than forty-nine (49) as provided in Section 237(2) is an outdated provision, as currently the Court of Appeal (Amendment) Act 2013 has increased the membership to ninety 90 Justices. Out of the Justices, not less than three are required to be learned in Islamic Personal Law and not less than three in customary law as prescribed by the Act of the National Assembly.

The President of the Court of Appeal is appointed by the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC), subject to the confirmation of Senate, while other Justices are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council only as stated in Section 238(1) & (2) of the Constitution.

Furthermore, Section 238(3) provides that a person shall not be qualified to hold office of the Justice of the Court of Appeal unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than twelve (12) years.

Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal

The jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal is enshrined in Section 239 of the Constitution. It provides that subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the Court of Appeal shall to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria,  have original jurisdiction to hear and determine any question as to whether;

  1. any person has been validly elected to the office of the President or Vice-President under the Constitution or;
  2. the term of office of the President or Vice-President has ceased;
  3. the office of the President or Vice-President has become vacant”.

In hearing and determining an election petition instituted before the Court of Appeal on the election of the office of the President or Vice-President, the Court of Appeal will be duly constituted if it consists of at least three Justices of the Court of Appeal as provided by Section 238(2) of the Constitution because before a court can be said to have jurisdiction to hear and determine a legal matter, it must be properly constituted as to qualification and numbers of members of the bench.

Appellate Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal

Section 240 of Constitution provides that subject to the provision of the Constitution, the Court of Appeal shall have the jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria, to hear and determine appeals from the Federal High Court, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, High Court of a State, the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, the Sharia Court of Appeal of a State, Customary Court of Appeal of a State and from the decision of a court martial or other tribunals as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.

An appeal  in a dispute shall lie from the decisions of the Federal High Court or a High Court to the Court of Appeal as of right in the following cases as  provided in Section 241 (1) of the Constitution as follows;

  1. final decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings before the Federal High Court or High Court sitting at first instance;
  2. where the ground of appeal involves questions of law alone in decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings;
  3. decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings on questions as to the interpretation or application of the Constitution;
  4. decisions in any civil or criminal proceedings on questions as to whether any of the provisions of the Constitution has been is being or is likely to be contravened in relation to any person;
  5. Decisions in any criminal proceedings in which the Federal High Court or a High Court has been imposed a sentence of death;
  6. Decisions made or given by the Federal High Court or a High Court-
  7. Where the liberty of a person or the custody of an infant is concerned.
  8. Where an injunction or the appointment of a receiver is granted or refused.
  • In the case of a decision determining the case of a creditor or the liability of a contributory or other officer under any enactment relating to companies in respect of misfeasance or otherwise.
  1. In the case of a decree nisi in a matrimonial cause or decision in an admiralty action determining liability, and;
  2. In such other cases as may be prescribed by any law in force in Nigeria.

Subject to the provisions of the section above, an appeal shall lie from the decisions of the Federal High Court or a High Court to the Court of Appeal with the leave of the Federal High Court of Appeal or that of the High Court or the Court of Appeal as provided in Section 242.

The Court of Appeal before adjudicating on civil or criminal proceedings may dispose of the application for leave to appeal from any decision of the Federal High Court or High Court if or any other court after the consideration of the record of the proceedings if the Court of Appeal is of the opinion that the interest of justice does not require an oral hearing of the application.

Right to exercise an Appeal at the Court of Appeal

Furthermore, the right to appeal any decision of the Federal High Court or High Court is exercisable in the case of a civil proceeding at the instance of a party in the proceedings or with leave of the Federal High Court or High Court or of the Court of Appeal at the instance of any person that has an interest in the matter and in the case of a criminal proceeding, the right is exercisable at the instance of an accused person or subject to the provision of the Constitution and any powers conferred upon the Attorney-General of the Federation or the Attorney-General of a State, to take over, continue or to discontinue such proceedings at the instance of other authorities or persons as may be prescribed as provided by Section 243 of the Constitution.

An appellant shall also exercise his right to appeal as of right from the decision of the Sharia Court of Appeal to the Court of Appeal, in any civil proceedings before the Sharia Court of Appeal with respect to any question of Islamic personal law, which the Sharia Court of Appeal is competent to decide as stated in Section 244 of the Constitution. Such right is exercisable at the instance of a party to the proceedings or with leave of the Sharia Court of Appeal or the Court of Appeal at the instance of a person interested in the matter.

Also, an appeal shall be exercised as of right from the decisions of the Customary Court of Appeal to the Court of Appeal, in any civil proceedings before the Customary Court of Appeal with respect to any question of Customary law and other matters as stated in Section 245 of the Constitution. Such right is also exercisable at the instance of a party to the proceedings or with leave of the Customary Court of Appeal or the Court of Appeal at the instance of a person interested in the matter.

Section 246 also provides that the Court of Appeal also has jurisdiction to hear an appeal as of right from the decision of the Code of Conduct Tribunal established in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Also from the decision of the National Assembly Election Tribunal, Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals on any question as to whether-

  • any person has been validly elected as a member of the National Assembly or of a House of Assembly of a State under the Constitution;
  • any person has been validly elected to the office of the Governor or Deputy Governor or;
  • the term of the office of any person has ceased or the seat of any of such person has become vacant.

Any decision of the Court of Appeal in respect of appeals from election petitions are final as stated in Section 246(3) of the Constitution.

As earlier stated, the Court of Appeal is the second-highest court in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which provides for the judicial arm of government, establishes the Court of Appeal.

 

By Winifred Idiaru, an Associate at Resolution Law Firm