Here in this post, we are going to discuss the steps to file a case in court in Nigeria. We hope you find this both educating and informative.
In our day-to-day engagements and activities, we relate with other humans and, in relating with other human beings, conflicts are bound to arise.
Some times, they are issues that can be easily settled and resolution reached. It is however undeniable that there are times when the issues that arise in our relationships with other persons need superior intervention. Superior intervention some times translates to legal intervention.
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Filing a case in court in Nigeria is most often than not a straight-forward process, especially with the enactment of recent and applicable laws at Federal and State levels. Subsidiary legislation such as the Rules of Courts have also broken down the processes even to the understanding of a lay man.
Legal issues are majorly in two forms, Civil or Criminal. Civil matters are between persons while criminal matters are between the state and a person (even though there is a victim involved). The steps to take in filing a case in Nigeria will depend on whether the facts in issue are of a civil or criminal nature.
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Commencement of a civil action
A civil matter can be filed in a Nigeria in either of two courts; the Magistrates’ Court or, the High Court.
To commence an action in the Magistrates’ Court, there are three main factors to be taken into consideration;
- Where the defendant resides
- Where the defendant carries on business
- Where the cause of action arose.
Once the required factors are considered and comply with the provisions of the applicable laws, a civil case can be filed in the Magistrates’ Court in either of the following forms:
- The claimant files a claim with the registrar of the court along with an appropriately detailed particulars of claim.
The particulars of claim must be signed by the claimant and his address must be provided (and that of his legal practitioner if he is represented by one).
- Based on the claim filed, the Magistrate or Registrar, upon the directive of the Magistrate, issues an ordinary summons for the defendant.
A copy of the claimant’s particulars of claim is attached to the summons to the defendant.
- The defendant (with or without legal representation) replies to the claim and must do so within 5 days.
- The defendant can;
- File a counterclaim or defence within 6 days
- File a counterclaim seeking to join another person as co-defendant and asking for time to allow him do so
- Request that additional documents be made available to him within 6 days.
- Summary Summons
Summary summons is employed where the claimant wants fast judgement in an issue that is not contentious. It is often used for liquidated money demands.
To file a case in court in Nigeria using Summary Summons;
- The claimant files a claim along with a letter of request to the Registrar to endorse the claim as a summary summons.
- The defendant, where he believes that he has a defence, responds to this by filing a counterclaim which must be done within 5 working days or, he files an admission to the claim.
- Originating Applications
This method is usually not employed in filing a civil case in Magistrates’ court.
It can be used to commence any non-contentious matter for which a manner of commencement is not provided by law.
- Be in writing
- State the orders applied for and be supported by documents showing grounds for the application
- Contain name(s) and address(es) of the Respondent(s)
- Contain the address of service for the applicant.
Now, let us consider how to institute civil proceedings in a High Court in Nigeria.
Before instituting a civil action in a High Court, the venue in which the matter is to be instituted must be taken into consideration as applicable Rules provide for the right venues to institute different offences. If an action is commenced in the wrong venue, the Respondent can raise an objection upon which the court is bound to act. This can lead to a waste of time in the processes of the court.
A civil action can be commenced in a High Court by any of the following means:
- Writ of Summons
This is used where the facts in issue are contentious or, may likely lead to contentious issues; or where there is an uncertainty as to the method to be used to commence an action.
The writ of summons is to be filed in a frontloading process along with;
- A statement of claim
- The list of witnesses to be called at the trial
- Copies of all documents to be relied upon at the trial
- Written statements on oath of the witnesses; and
- The pre-action counselling certificate.
Every writ of summons issued by the court must be endorsed by the same court.
- Originating Summons
An action can be commenced by originating summons where the major fact in issue is of the construction of a written law or any document made thereunder or, if the facts in issue are not contentious.
An originating summons must be filed along with an affidavit stating the facts of the case, and
- All exhibits to be relied on
- Pre-action Counselling form
- A written address to support the application.
The defendant is to file a counter affidavit.
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Commencement of Criminal Proceedings
In Nigeria, crimes committed by persons are committed against the state therefore, only the state has the authority to institute criminal proceedings in a court of law.
However, since the state only operates through different arms and with authority vested in persons, it, under relevant and applicable laws, grants to certain offices/officials the authority to institute criminal proceedings.
Authority to institute criminal proceedings in a Nigerian Court can be exercised by;
- The Attorneys General
The Attorney General of the state institutes proceedings in respect of state offences while that of the Federation institutes proceedings in respect of Federal offences.
The Attorney General can delegate his power to appropriate authorities under him as provided for by law, and can also discontinue a trial in accordance with provisions of relevant laws.
- Police prosecutors
Although their powers are subject to those of the Attorney General, they can prosecute matters in any court.
A police prosecutor is however not allowed to cite provisions of the law nor reply to an address made by a counsel unless he is himself a lawyer.
- Private Prosecutors
They include a certain category of persons such as the husband, father or guardian of a woman who has been raped.
These category of persons also need the consent of the Attorney General to file an information.
The method by which any of these authorised persons file a case in court depends on the court such a matter is being instituted.
- Magistrates’ Court
Any of the following methods can be employed in accordance with necessary provisions pf applicable laws;
- By preferring a charge
The charge is prepared and signed by a police officer and presented before the Magistrate with necessary particulars that must contain
- Name of the offender
- Place where the offence occurred
III. Person against whom the offence was committed
- Date of the offence.
- By laying a First Information Report
This is applicable in the north and the FCT
- By laying a complaint before a Magistrate.
This is done either orally or in written form.
- High Court
By filing an information
The consent of a High Court judge is required before an information can be filed.
The information can be filed by the Attorney General or any officer he delegates to do so.
The consent of the judge is obtained through the writing of a letter requesting same or by filing a motion exparte which must contain;
- That the witnesses listed will be available at trial
- That no previous application has been made. If an earlier application has been made, it must be stated even if it was not granted.
III. That the information is true.
Where the consent of the judge is not obtained, the information will be quashed upon appeal or upon a preliminary objection raised by the accused.
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