Magistrates don’t have power to deal with contempt in facie curiae – Court of Appeal

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  • This Contribution is from Emmanuel Madujibe Chukwu Esq


In contributing my little quota to this heavy issue at hand, I must first deal unkindly with the rude and discourteous character of the defense counsel before the Honorable Court.


Now, let me point out that it is only a Superior Court of record that has inherent jurisdiction to deal with contempt in facie curiae and punish for the offence summarily.
See INEC & Anor V Oguebego & Ors (2017) JELR 37955 ( SC).


It should be noted that the Court of Appeal had the opportunity to entertain this confusing situation in Adeyemi Candid-Johnson V Mrs Esther Edigi (2018) LPELR-45148(CA) where the court held that the Acting Chief Magistrate went beyond its powers and cited a counsel for contempt because the counsel’ insisted that his submissions before the Court should be placed on record and also refused to answer a question which was put to him by the Court. The Magistrate considered the counsel’s conduct to be rude and contemptuous and ordered that he should be detained. The Court of Appeal, while condemning the act of the Magistrate held: “Apparently, when tempers rose rather meteorically, the respondent, exacerbated by the situation, unleashed this incisive question: “When did you leave the law school? The response, going by the record, was equally unrelenting: “I will refuse to answer that question in the rudest manner.” It was the refusal to answer this question, according to the record, that broke the camel’s back, and led to the detention of the appellant for contempt of court. It was unfortunate, to say the least, for the respondent, according to the records, to have taken leave of her exalted bench, invited counsel to extra-judicial dialogue, and thereafter descended into the arena of vituperative conflict with him”.


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Achike JCA (as he then was) corroborated his reasonings with my fears and held;

“It is clearly improper and will expose the Administration of Justice to ridicule if a Magistrate or presiding officer of an inferior Court were invested with such extraordinary powers to provoke extrajudicial verbal exchange with counsel and yet invoke against him the lethal and drastic power to punish for contempt”

Here, it will be said that the law of contempt only exists to uphold and ensure effective Administration of Justice and not for personal glory as we have seen in the case cited above. The power of the Court to punish for contempt must always be exercised to secure and protect the authority of the Court.
In fact, the powers should be sparingly exercised and only in serious cases.

The point I am struggling to make has been settled by the Supreme Court in the case of INEC & Anor V Oguebego & Ors (2017) JELR 37955 ( SC) that such arrant words or actions of the contemnor must be capable of interfering with the administration of justice by the court.

Let me also quickly agree with the Justices of the Apex Court in the above cases that it is only a Superior Court of record that has the inherent jurisdiction to deal with contempt in facie curiae and punish for the offence summarily.

Could it be safely said that the court did not abuse her powers to order that defense counsel be tried summarily, convicted and handcuffed to a gory place of safety to secure the ego and personal aggrandizement of the presiding officer?

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