Decision of a court is founded on ratio decidendi
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
ON FRIDAY, THE 17TH DAY OF APRIL, 2015
BEFORE THEIR LORDSHIPS
IBRAHIM T. MUHAMMAD JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
MUHAMMADS. MUNTAKA-COOMASSIE JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
MARY U. PETER-ODILI JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
KUDIRAT M. O. KEKERE-EKUN JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
CHIMA C. NWEZE JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
1. CAPTAIN SHULGIN OLEKSANDR
2. TYRKIN ANATOLIY APPELLANTS
3. COLUB ANALOLIY
4. VLASYUK GENNADIY
5. TIMCHENKO VOLODYMYR
1. LONESTAR DRILLING COMPANY LTD RESPONDENTS
2. CHIEF H.I.S. IDISI
The ratio decidendi of a case is the principle or rule of law upon which a court’s decision is founded. On the other hand obiter dicta or obiter dictum means, ‘Something said in passing’. It is a judicial comment made while delivering a judicial opinion, but one that does not embody the decision of the court. So held the Supreme Court Holden in Abuja in a unanimous ruling delivered by Her lordship, Kudirat M. O. Kekere-Ekun, JSC, with her learned brothers Ibrahim T. Muhammed, Muhammed Muntaka- Coomassie, Mary U. Peter-Odili and Chima C. Nweze, JJSC concurring while dismissing the appeal. The parties were represented by Ayo Olorunfemi and O. Yusuf, for the Appellants, N. I. Ntiaidem, for the Respondents.
This is an appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division delivered on 16/9/2002 setting aside the ruling of the Federal High Court, Lagos (the trial court) delivered on 19/6/1998 which held that the Respondents herein had breached the fundamental rights of the present Appellants and granted various consequential reliefs accordingly.
The Appellants, Ukranian nationals, were crew members of a vessel named Dubai Valour, which was arrested and placed under the custody of the Admiral Marshal pursuant to an arrest order made on 5/8/1997 by the Federal High Court, Benin City in Suit No. FHC/B/228/92 filed by the 1st Respondent, as Plaintiff, against five Defendants. The vessel M/V Dubai Valour was the 4th Defendant. The present Appellants were not parties to that suit.
However, it was their contention that they were unlawfully detained on the vessel without food, water, bunkers and medical supplies and had not been allowed to disembark and leave Nigeria because their international passports and seamen’s books had been seized. They therefore instituted proceedings before the Federal High Court in Lagos in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/81/98 against (1) The Attorney General of the Federation, (2) Comptroller General of Immigrations, (3) Minister of Internal Affairs, (4) Lonestar Drilling Co. Ltd. (1stRespondent herein), and (5) Chief H.L.S.Idisi (2nd Respondent herein).
By a motion on notice dated 27/1/1998, the Appellants sought the following reliefs: (a) An order enforcing the Appellants’fundamental human rights to personal freedom and liberty pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit to beheard within such time as may be directed by this honourable court, and (b) An order directing the Defendants/Respondents either by themselves, their servants, agents, and/or privies and/or anyone acting for or purporting to act on their behalf to return forthwith to the Plaintiffs/Applicants all their International Passports and/or Seamen’s Pass Books and/or to do everything necessary to facilitate their disembarkation from the Vessel, “Dubai Valour” and travel out of this country to their countries without let or hindrance and US$5,000,000 (Five MillionUS Dollars) damages for wrongful and/or illegal detention of the Applicants, and for such order or further orders as to this honourable court may deem fit to make in the circumstances. (c) An order allowing the Plaintiffs and their vessel to be supplied with bunkers, fresh water, provision and medicare without hindrance by the Defendants or any one claiming for or in trust for them.
After hearing arguments on the application, the learned trial Judge, in a considered ruling delivered on 19/6/98, held that the Appellants’ fundamental rights had been breached and granted the reliefs sought. He however declined to make an order for the award of compensation in their favour. The Respondents were dissatisfied with the ruling and appealed to the lower court. The Appellants were also dissatisfied with the refusal of the court to award compensation in their favour and filed a cross-appeal. In a considered judgment delivered on 16/9/2002 the lower court allowed the appeal and dismissed the cross-appeal. The Appellants are dissatisfied with the decision and have appealed to this court vide their notice of appeal dated 26/11/2002 containing 9 grounds of appeal.
The parties before us duly filed and exchanged their respective briefs of argument.
At the hearing of the appeal on 27/1/2015, Miss N. I. Ntiaidem who represented the Respondents drew the court’s attention to the preliminary objection raised and argued at Pages 1-8 of the Respondents’ brief and urged us to sustain the objection. Ayo Olorunfemi Esq., who represented the Appellants adopted and relied on the Appellants’ brief. He urged us to overrule the preliminary objection and to allow the appeal. Miss Ntiaidem urged us to dismiss the appeal.
The Appellants and the Respondents each distilled five issues for determination. The Appellants’ issues are as follows: 1. Whether the Court of Appeal was right to have exonerated the Respondents herein (4th & 5thRespondents at the trial court) from responsibility for breach of the Appellants’fundamental rights and the illegal and/unlawful detention of the Appellants in their vessel, “Dubai Valour” for over twenty (20) months? (Grounds 1, 4, 6 & 7). 2. Is the decision by the Court of Appeal that the Appellants were wrong to have initiated the human rights action in Lagos not an obiterdictum? If no, whether the Appellant’s initiation of the present action in Lagos could be said to be wrongful in law? (Ground 3).
3. Does the judgment of the Court of Appeal in England on the same issue namely, whether the Respondents were guilty or not of false/wrongful imprisonment and/or detention of the Appellants’ hereto not constitute ‘res judicata’or issue estoppels as between the parties hereto and/or their privies in the circumstances of the case? (Grounds 5 & 9).
4. Was it right for the Court of Appeal to have relied on what it called “fresh evidence”produced before the English Court alone,without more, to conclude that the Respondents did not deny the Appellants supplyof food, bunkers and provisions? (Ground 8).
5. Was the Court of Appeal right in failing and/or refusing to award any monetary compensation in favour of the Appellants and against the Respondents herein for the illegal and/or unlawful breach of the Appellants’ fundamental rights? (Ground 2).
The issues formulated by the Respondents are: 1. Whether the learned Justices were wrong in holding that Respondents were not responsible for breach of Appellants’ alleged rights?
2. Whether the obiter or passing observations or remarks of the learned Justices which did not form the basis of the decision of the Court constitute a valid basis for an appeal and if so, did the observations cause a miscarriage of justice in this case? 3. Whether Appellants were entitled to an award of damages against Respondents having regard to the finding of the learned trial Judge and the decision of the learned Justices? 4. Whether the learned justices were wrong in law in not receiving the English decision as a binding judicial authority – establishing the defence of res judicata and or as creating issue estoppel? 5. Whether the learned justices were wrong in the use they made of the said evidence? I am of the view that the issues formulated by the Appellants will adequately address the issues in controversy in this appeal. The appeal will therefore be determined on the said issues.
However before delving into the merit of the appeal it is necessary to determine the preliminary objection raised and argued at Pages 3-8 of the Respondents’ brief.
The first ground of objection is that Grounds 3 and 4 of the notice of appeal are complaints in respect of obiter dicta of the learned Justices of the lower court, which did not form the basis of the judgment appealed against. Learned senior counsel, Chief Okpoko, SAN, submitted that the right of appeal conferred by Section 233 (2) and (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is in respect of a ‘decision’ of a court and not in respect of passing remarks or observations made by the court. He relied on: Obatoyinbo v. Oshatoba (1996) 5 NWLR (Pt. 450) 531 at 549 F SC; Oni v. Fayemi (2008) 8 NWLR (Pt.1089) 400 at 427 H-E CA; Akibu v. Oduntan (1991) 2 S.C. 77.
Secondly, it is contended that Grounds 6, 7, 8 and 9, which complain of misdirection on the facts, are incompetent for failure to satisfy the mandatory requirement of Order 8 Rule 2 (2) of the Supreme Court Rules on the ground that the particulars of misdirection or error given do not relate to the complaints in the said grounds. He referred to: Honika Sawmill (Nig.) Ltd. v.Hoff (1994) 2 NWLR (Pt. 326) 252 at 262- 263 SC; Kachia v. Yazid(2007) 17 NWLR (Pt. 742) 431 at 460 CA; AbdullahiYelwa v. Garba Umar (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 291) 1670 at 1694. The Appellants did not respond to the objections.
As rightly submitted by learned senior counsel for the Respondents, the right conferred on a litigant pursuant to Section 233 (2) of the 1999 Constitution is the right to appeal against decisions of the Court of Appeal in respect of the matters enumerated therein. Section 318 (1) of the Constitution provides: ‘decision’ means, in relation to a court, any determination of that court and includes judgment, decree, order, conviction, sentence or recommendation.”