This section of the Constitution also reinforces the fact that judges must see themselves as impartial umpires and they should have no business to descend to the arena of civil litigation. See Ezeain Nnajiafor and Others V. Linus Ukonu & others (1985) per Justice Bello JSC.
They should refrain at all times from telling Counsel what to do and how to do it, otherwise they may be challenged for taking sides. See A.E. Macchi SPA & Others V. A.L.S. Limited (1986).
In Kim V. State (1992) these duties of impartiality and fairness were re- echoed as follows:
“In our system of administration of justice, the judge must be and manifestly be seen to be an impartial umpire. He must maintaina balance between the two parties to the dispute.
Therefore, any act of his that can ground the conclusion that he has taken sides in the conflict vitiates the trial, while a trial studied with impartiality on one side is not fair hearing”. See Akinfe V. The
State (1988) and Okoduwa V. The State (1988).
Fair hearing within the contemplation of sections 33 of the 1979 (i.e. section 36 of the 1999(Nigerian Constitution is a manifest epitome of even handed justice. Therefore a judge should remain an impartial umpire throughout the proceedings and allow parties to the conflict conduct their case on their own initiative. It will be improper for a judge to take any step in any proceeding which has even the remote possibility of projecting an impression that the judge is handling the proceeding with a slant in favour of one side against the other. See Arubo V. Aiyelere (1993); Orizu V. Anyaegbunam (1978) and Ojo V. Oseni (1987).
Bias and Likelihood of It
A judge should not be hostile to any of the parties before him. He should not be a judge in his own case in order that the public confidence in the administration of justice may be fully maintained hence no man who has either a pecuniary or proprietary interest in a case before him should be allowed to adjudicate on it. See Metropolitan Properties Company (FG) Ltd. V. Lennon (1969).
In summary, it is now conceded that to disqualify a person from acting in a judicial or quasi judicial capacity upon the ground of interest (other than pecuniary or proprietary) in a subject matter of the proceedings, a real likelihood of bias must be made to appear not only from materials in fact ascertained by the party complaining, but from such further facts as he might readily have ascertained and easily verified in the course of his disqualifications.
Note that the test for BIAS is whether there is a reasonable suspicion of bias when it is looked at from the objective standpoint of a reasonable person and not from the subjective standpoint of an aggrieved party.
Since he who pays the piper dictates the tune, the granting of a privilege to anybody to operate a bank is not a civil right, for such a grant can be revoked subsequently on due course shown to the grantor.
This was an issue in the case of Merchant Bank Ltd. V. Federal Minister of Finance (1961), which stated that the appellant bank did not possess any “Civil Rights” within the meaning of the 1954 Constitution then in force and that all they possessed was a privilege to carry on banking business within the meaning of the Banking Ordinance and no more. And that the business can be determined in the manner provided for in the Ordinance if in the opinion of the Minister, an examination shows that the licensed bank is carrying on business in a manner
detrimental to the interests of its depositors and other creditors, or has insufficient assets to cover its liabilities to the public, or is contravening the provisions of the Ordinance.
Fair Trial within a Reasonable Time
The constitution compels a person to be tried within a reasonable time. This in essence is to do away with the odious effect of delay in the administration of Justice.
This idea is salutary because delay usually defeats equity, for justice delayed is justice denied, and as a matter of fact, Harry Jones made the following scintillating comments on the bad effects of delay in judicial process:
“Delay causes hardship, delay brings our courts in disrepute, delay results in deterioration of
evidence through loss of witnesses, forgetful memories and death of parties and makes it less likely that justice will be done when a case is reached for trial”.
These points were well articulated in the case of O’Donell V. Watson Bros. Transportation Company (1960) in America which went on for twenty years – a pretty longtime; and see also the case of Ekeri V. Edo Kimisede (1976) where hearing in a case commenced on 20th May, 1971 and dragged on after series of adjournment until 19th July, 1973 when defence closed its case. Counsel addressed the Court in July and August, 1973 but judgement was not delivered until 30th November, 1974.
The Supreme Court accepted the submission of counsel to the Plaintiffs/ Appellants that owing to the many long intervals of delay in taking evidence and the long delay before delivering judgement the learned trial judge ought to be regarded as having lost his impression of the evidence and the advantage of having seen and heard the witnesses. 3.5 Authenticated Copies of Judgement
It is an important duty of a court delivering judgement to furnish all parties with duly authenticated copies on the date of the delivery of judgement under section 258 (1) of the 1979 Constitution (also Section 294 of the 1999 Constitution).
This section reads:
“Every court established under this Constitution shall deliver its decision in writing not later than 3 months after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses, and furnish all parties to the case of the matter determined with duly authenticated copies of the
decision on the date of the delivery thereof”.
But in Chief Adedapo Adekeye & Another V. Chief Akin Olugbade (1987) Oputa JSC adjudged that this provision is merely directory and not mandatory with regards to the giving of authenticated copies of the judgements on the date that the judgement is delivered. We therefore need more guidance on the interpretation of section 33(7) of the Constitution, 1979 (or section 36(7) of the 1999 Constitution) which provision concern criminal proceeds.
“When any person is tried for any criminal offence,the court shall keep a record of the proceedings and the accused person or any person authorised by him in that behalf SHALL be entitled to obtain copies of that judgement in the case within 7 days of the conclusion of the case”.
It is the opinion of these authors that the provisions in this perspective are mandatory in criminal trials; See Olanrewaju V. Government of Oyo State and Others (1992) which deals with the meaning of the word “SHALL” in any enactment.
It states that the word SHALL in any enactment is PREDATORY rather than a mere DIRECTIVE, and compliance is therefore binding and not left to the discretion of the person to whom the enactment imposes the duty.
Right to an Interpreter
Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to be informed promptly in the language that he understands and in detail of the nature of the offence.
In other words, the language must be properly interpreted to give him an opportunity to defend himself. For every person who is charged with a criminal offence, for example, shall be entitled to have without payment the assistance of an interpreter if he can not understand the language used at the trial of the offence.
Any negation of this principle therefore definitely contravenes not only the constitutional provision of Nigeria, but also the principle of Natural Justice. This was in fact established in the case of Buraima Ajayi and Julande V. Zaria Native Authority (1964) where the appellants successfully appealed to the Supreme Court against the High Court’s refusal to interfere with their conviction in a Native Court on the ground that the interpretation in the Native Court had been unsatisfactory. The proceedings in the Native Court were in Hausa, which the appellants neither spoke nor understood. They were Yoruba speakers by birth and understood English, but not perfectly. The proceedings were interpreted into English and one into Yoruba. It did not appear what language the other interpreted into. None of them was sworn. The trial record gave their names but it did not appear how they came to be called on to interpret or who they were, except that one was a school boy another was an Ibo who spoke English but not Yoruba. Only one gave evidence in the High Court. The High Court found that in at least two occasions the ability of the interpreters satisfactorily might be questioned, but that in fact, the whole proceedings has been interpreted correctly.
On appeal it was held amidst all other facts that this was wrong. It deprived the appellants of their constitutional rights, and that it contravened the principles of natural justice which demand that justice needs not only be done but must be manifestly seen done. Put succinctly the Supreme Court held as follows:-