[JUDGMENT] Propriety Of Making Similar Applications At The Supreme And Appeal Courts Simultaneously
The Supreme Court concluded that, the affidavit in support of the application did not disclose good and substantial reason for the failure to appeal or apply for leave to appeal within the prescribed period, so as to be entitled to the discretionary power of court in its favour. Application Dismissed.
In the Supreme Court of Nigeria Holden at Abuja On Friday, the 5th day of February, 2021
Before Their Lordships
Amina Adamu Augie
Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju
Emmanuel Akomaye Agim
Justices, Supreme Court SC.918/2018
Virgin Atlantic Airways … … … Appellant/Applicant
Mrs. Francisca Pablo Amaran… … … Respondent
1) Zenith Bank Nigeria Plc
2) Guaranty Trust Bank Plc … … … Garnishee/Respondent
(Lead Ruling delivered by Honourable Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, JSC)
The Federal High Court, Lagos delivered its judgement in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/50/2012 – Mrs. Francis Pablo-Amaran v Virgin Atlantic Airways & 2 Ors – on 30th November, 2016. The Judgement Creditor/Respondent (the Respondent) commenced the enforcement of the judgement by an application ex-parte for a Garnishee Order, which Order Nisi was granted by the trial court on 13th January, 2017 and the proceedings adjourned for the Garnishees to show cause why they should not pay to the Judgement Creditor, the amount standing to the credit balance of the Judgement Debtor’s account with them.
The Judgement Debtor/Appellant/Applicant (the Applicant) who was listed as a party in the ex-parte application and named a party to the proceedings, thereafter, filed a Notice of Appeal against the judgement of the trial court delivered on 30th November, 2016 and the appeal was entered on 7th February, 2017, following which the Applicant applied to the trial High Court for a stay of execution of its judgement, setting aside of the Garnishee Order Nisi and stay of further garnishee proceedings pending the determination of the appeal.
Based on the foregoing applications, the trial court declined further jurisdiction in the matter, and declared every application and orders made in the proceedings, as nullity.
Aggrieved by the decision of the trial court, the Respondent appealed to the Court of Appeal, which appellate court allowed the appeal, restored the Garnishee Order Nisi, and ordered the trial court to await the determination of the substantive appeal at the appellate court. The Applicant, who was dissatisfied with the outcome of the appeal, filed a trinity application against the judgement of the Court of Appeal delivered on the 29th June, 2018.
The application was initially filed at the Court of Appeal. However, the said motion could not be heard before the expiration of the three-month period provided for. Consequently, the Applicant then filed a Motion on Notice at the Supreme Court dated 3rd October, 2018 seeking the trinity prayers for an Order of the Supreme Court extending the time within which the Appellant can seek leave to appeal against the judgement of the Court of Appeal, leave to appeal the decision, and extension of time to appeal to the Supreme Court. In its affidavit in support of the application, the Applicant stated the reasons for the delay. It stated that the application was filed on the 3rd October, 2018 because the 29th and 30th of September, 2018 fell on a weekend while the 1st October, 2018 was declared a public holiday. The Appellant further stated that, the processes had to be conveyed from Lagos to Abuja on 2nd October, 2018 for filing on 3rd October, 2018. However, the Appellant did not disclose why it had waited for two months before filing the initial application at the Court of Appeal, which could not be heard within the three-month period stipulated for appealing the decision of the Court of Appeal.
The Respondent filed an objection contending that the Applicant’s application was an abuse of court process, as a similar application was filed at the Court of Appeal which was subsequently struck out on 16th October, 2018 following the Applicant’s withdrawal of same. The Respondent contended further that, as the Applicant is not a party to the Garnishee Proceedings where the order Nisi was made, it can only appeal against the said order as an interested party after obtaining the leave of the Court of Appeal, and when such leave had not been sought or obtained, then the Supreme Court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the application.
Issues for Determination
In its determination of the application and the objections of the Respondent thereto, the Supreme Court considered the following issues:
1. Whether the Applicant has a competent application before the Honourable Court to vest the Supreme Court with jurisdiction, having not complied with Order 28 Rules 3 and 4 of the Supreme Court Rules, 2014.
2. Whether the Honourable Court ought not to grant the Appellant leave to appeal against the judgement of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division delivered on the 28th day of June, 2018 by their Lordships; Hon. Justice Ugochukwu Anthony Ogakwu and Hon. Justice Jamilu Yammama Tukur in Appeal No. CA/L/471/2017- Mrs. Francisca Pablo-Amaran v Virgin Atlantic Airways & 2 Ors.
By way of objection to the competence of the application before the court, the Respondent had submitted that the application before the Supreme Court, filed on 3rd October, 2018 was an abuse of court process, because a similar application was filed at the Court of Appeal on 24th August, 2018, and the Court of Appeal did not strike out the said application until 16th October, 2018 following the withdrawal by the Applicant. The Respondent also challenged the application on the basis that the Applicant was not a party to the Garnishee Order Nisi, and can only appeal against same as an interested party after seeking and obtaining leave of court. In response, counsel for the Applicant submitted that in accordance with Order 2 Rule 28(4) of the Supreme Court (Amended) Rules 2014, the Appellant had filed a similar application for leave to appeal before the Court of Appeal, but same was not heard owing to the court’s annual vacation. The Court of Appeal resumed sitting on the 17th October, 2018, but the Applicant could not get a date for hearing of the motion for leave because the time prescribed by the Rules for seeking leave to appeal at the lower court had expired; hence, the Applicant had to file the application at the Supreme Court, while waiting to withdraw the first application at the Court of Appeal.
Court’s Ruling and Rationale
Deciding the objection to the competence of the application, the Supreme Court found that the Applicant provided a satisfactory explanation to show that the filing of the second application at the Supreme Court was not made in bad faith, and that withdrawing the first application was the proper thing to do in the circumstance as the three-month period allowed under Section 27(2) of the Supreme Court Act to appeal had expired by 30th September, 2018. Order 2 Rule 28(4) permits a second application to the Supreme Court, in circumstance(s) where it is impossible to apply to the Court of Appeal; more so, where the period for appealing against the judgement of the Court of Appeal has expired, only the Supreme Court can extend the prescribed time by virtue of Section 27(4) of the Supreme Court Act – AFRIBANK NIG. PLC. v AKWARA (2006) 5 NWLR (Pt. 974) 619. The court held that where there is no want of bona fide, a process issued in accordance with law in pursuit of the due process of justice, cannot be an abuse of the process of court.
Regarding the objection that Applicant was not a party to the Garnishee Proceedings and that it could only appeal against the Garnishee Order Nisi as an interested party after obtaining the leave of the Court of Appeal, which it failed to obtain, thereby robbing the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to entertain the appeal, the Apex Court found that the Applicant was a nominal party in the Garnishee Proceedings up to the making of the Order Nisi. The Applicant became an active party after filing an application to challenge the Garnishee Proceedings on the ground that its appeal against the decision sought to be enforced had been entered at the Court of Appeal, and the trial court upheld its objection. The decision of the trial court on this objection, was what resulted in the appeal leading to the Supreme Court. Thus, the Applicant was not only a party to the Garnishee Proceedings, but a main Respondent to the appeal against the Ruling of the court below. The court held further that a named party in a trial proceedings or party who actively participated in the proceeding has a right to appeal against any decision in the said trial proceedings, and does not require the leave of the court to appeal against a decision in such trial proceedings as person interested – Section 243(a) of the 1999 Constitution. Thus, the argument that the Applicant has no right to appeal against the ex-parte Garnishee Order Nisi by virtue of Section 14(1) of the Court of Appeal Act 2004 is unnecessary, as the instant appeal is a further appeal resulting from the Applicant’s objection to the jurisdiction of the trial court, and not against the ex-parte order of the trial court. Being a party to the appeal, the Applicant can exercise its right of appeal to the Supreme Court by virtue of Section 233(2) and (5) of the 1999 Constitution. By this, the Supreme Court dismissed the objection of the Respondent to the application.
Now, considering the merit of the application seeking the trinity prayer before the Supreme Court, their Lordships held that by the provisions of Order 2 Rule 31 of the Supreme Court (Amended) Rules 2014 which regulates the practice and procedure in respect of an application of this nature, the conditions stipulated in Order 2 Rule 31(2) must be complied with. In essence, every application for an enlargement of time in which to appeal or in which to apply for leave, is to be supported by an affidavit setting forth good and substantial reasons for the failure to appeal or to apply for leave to appeal within the prescribed period, and there should also be exhibited grounds of appeal which prima facie show good cause why the appeal should be heard, amongst others. Failure to satisfy these two conditions would result in such application being dismissed by the court – SEBASTIAN ADIGWE v FEDERAL RUPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2015) S.C. 115. In this case, the reason given by the Applicant for its failure to apply and obtain leave within the prescribed time, was owing to the annual vacation of the court for the year 2018. The Applicant however, failed to disclose why it waited for about two months after the delivery of the judgement of the Court of Appeal before applying to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal the decision. The Supreme Court concluded that, the affidavit in support of the application did not disclose good and substantial reason for the failure to appeal or apply for leave to appeal within the prescribed period, so as to be entitled to the discretionary power of court in its favour.
Victoria Adedapo for the Appellant.
P. Amaran with J. Okogbo for the Respondent.
B.B. Lawal, Esq. for the Garnishee/Respondent
Reported by Optimum Publishers Limited, Publishers of the Nigerian Monthly Law Reports (NMLR)(An Affiliate of Babalakin & Co.)