‘There is no Law authorizing Area/Upper Area Courts to transfer Cases to Magistrate Courts’, Court rules
A Kogi Magistrate Court on Monday, the 20th day of March, 2023, delivered a ruling relating to the powers or jurisdiction of a Magistrate Court to entertain transferred cases from Area Courts and Upper Area Courts in Kogi State. The ruling is sequel to a preliminary objection raised by S.O. Akobe Esq in Case No.: ECMC/FIR/13/2022, between Commissioner of Police v. John Ogbuku & 9 Ors. The case was transferred from Upper Area Court II Anyigba to Chief Magistrate Court Egume. The transfer of the matter was said to be pursuant to a directive issued by the Director of Magistracy wherein Area Courts including Upper Area Courts were directed to stop entertaining criminal matters in their Courts. The directive further instructed the Area/Upper Area Courts to transfer all criminal matters in their courts to Magisterate Courts.
It was against the said order of transfer that S. O. Akobe, Esq raised a preliminary objection before the Chief Magisterate Court Egume, while contending that there is no law in Kogi State that authorizes an Area Court/Upper Area Court to transfer matters to Magisterate Court. He also argued that there is no provision in the Magisterate Court Law of Kogi State, 2020 that empowers Magistrate Courts to entertain or accept transferred cases from Area/Upper Area Courts. He further submitted that a purported directive from the Director of Magistracy cannot supercede statutory provisions under any guise. He finally urged the Court to decline jurisdiction and consequently strike out the case.
Responding, the Prosecuting Counsel, S. O. David, Esq. urged the Court to overrule the defence Counsel’s submissions as they are merely academic. He contended that the court can assume jurisdiction over the matter as the offences which the Defendants were standing trial for are within the jurisdiction of the Court to entertain. He submitted that since the Magisterate Court can transfer cases to Area Courts it can be inferred that it can also accept transferred matters from the same courts.
Responding further, the Defence Counsel, S. O. Akobe, Esq submitted that jurisdiction is a matter of hard law and that same can only be assumed by a court of law where it is statutorily donated and not by assumption or conjectures.
In her ruling, the presiding Magistrate, Fatima Adamu upheld the preliminary objection raised by the defence Counsel and held as follows:
“I have carefully considered the submissions made by the two counsel in this case. In my view what appears to be the main issue for determination is whether this honorable court (Magistrate court) can entertain a criminal matter by way of transfer from an Area Court (in this cas UPPER AREA COURT 2 ANYIGBA) Under the Magistrate Court Law of Kogi State, 2020.
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“It is settled law that jurisdiction of a court is conferred by law that established it or any other relevant legislation in relation thereto. See JOHNSON AJE VS THE STATE 2019 L.P.E.L.R 468 28 4NWLR pt 1025 @ pg 423. I have looked at the provision of S 24, sections 25, 26 and 27 of the Magistrate Court Law 2020 which deals with the power of transfer of this honorable court, and I can say categorically that in no place is it provided for this honorable court to entertain transferred matters from Area Courts including Upper Area Courts. S 26 of the magistrate court laws gives this honorable court the power to transfer matters to Area courts but there is no corresponding provision empowering this honorable court to receive cases from Area court by way of transfer. The literal interpretation of the provision of section 26 of magistrate court laws 2020 does not support any extraneous interpretation to accommodate a reciprocal acceptance of transferred cases from Area Courts. It is settled law that where the words used in a statute are clear and unambiguous the court is to interpret them in their ordinary sense. See the case of ABEGUNDE VS ONDO STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY AND OR 2015 L.P.E.L 24588 (S C).
“The defendants’ counsel, S.O. Akobe, Esq in his submission drew the attention of the court to the provision of section 30 of Area court laws 1991 and submitted that there is no provision therein authorizing transfer of cases from Area court to magistrate court. I have looked at the said provision. I have further looked at the provisions of S 31 and 32 of the Area court Laws 1991, and I hold the firm view that the submission of the learned counsel is correct. I have perused the same provisions and I did not find any place where Area courts are authorized to transfer matters to this honorable court. The said provision only allows transfer of matters between one area court to another.
“The prosecuting counsel, S.O. David submitted that this honorable court should assume jurisdiction pursuant to its inherent powers. With due respect, I do not agree that a court should assume jurisdiction over a matter only by its inherent powers. This is because as earlier stated, where a court is not conferred jurisdiction by law, jurisdiction cannot be assumed under the guise of inherent powers. I also agree with the defense counsel that jurisdiction cannot be assumed by way of speculations or pursuant to inherent powers of a court alone. Jurisdiction of a court to entertain a matter is as stated in the case of MADUKOLO VS NKEMDILIM (supra) where it was stated that a court would assume jurisdiction over a matter where the following conditions are satisfied: – The court or tribunal must be properly constituted with respect to the number and qualification of its members.
– The subject matter of the case must be within its jurisdiction
– The action must be initiated by due process of law.
– Any condition precedent to the exercise of the court’s jurisdiction must have been fulfilled.
“Looking at the case before me, it is obvious that what is been questioned by the defense counsel is the process by which the case was initiated before this honorable court. The question therefore is, can this case be said to have been initiated before this honorable court by due process of law? As earlier stated, there is no provision in either the Area court Law of Kogi State or the magistrate court Law of Kogi State that provides for transfer of matters from Area court to this honorable court. In the absence of such provision, I hold the view that this matter which came to this honorable court by way of transfer from an Area court was not initiated by due process of law. Accordingly I hold that this honorable court does not have jurisdiction to entertain this matter by way of transfer from Area court under the Magistrate Court Law of Kogi State, 2020. The cases of FASIKIN FOODS NIG LTD & MARTINS BABATUNDE SHOSHANYA cited supra are very clear on issue of transfer of cases form one court to another. The purports of this authority is that transfer of cases by one court to another must be in accordance with statutory indulgence and no more.
“What is more, no injustice will be suffered by the prosecution if this case is struck out for lack of jurisdiction as the prosecution can at any time file a fresh case before this honorable court directly. This is more so as criminal matters are not affected by the statute of limitation. It is a popular saying that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. Thus, if at all this popular saying is anything to go by, then the prosecution must be directed to do the right thing.
“I therefore, finally resolve the issue raised above in favour of the Defendants to the effect that this honorable court cannot entertain cases by way of transfer from Area court or Upper Area Court to this honorable court under the Magistrate Court Law of Kogi State, 2020. I so hold. Accordingly case number ECMC/FIR/13/2022 is hereby struck out for lack of jurisdiction. It is so ordered!
After the ruling the defence Counsel, S. O. Akobe, Esq thanked the Court for the ruling while describing same as a landmark ruling that would help in developing our laws. On his part, the Prosecuting Counsel, S. O. David, Esq also thanked the Court for the ruling and added that the Prosecution would do the needful.
Speaking to one of our correspondents, S.O. Akobe, Esq. hailed the Magisterate for the courage demonstrated in her ruling. He stated that it was unthinkable for a purported administrative directive to be allowed to supercede the provisions of statutes. He said:
“In Kogi State, the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, 2017 as well as the Penal Code Law of Kogi State, 2019, confer criminal jurisdiction on Area Courts/Upper Area Courts over certain offences. These laws remain extant, potent and vaild. They have not been amended to remove the criminal jurisdiction so given to the said Courts. Unfortunately, from the beginning of this year, Area Courts started declining jurisdiction on criminal matters while claiming to be acting pursuant to an administrative directive by the Director of Magistracy. They started transferring criminal cases to Magisterate Courts even without hearing from the Counsel involved. It is one of such transferred cases that I have challenged and got a favourable ruling.
“The ruling just delivered is a valid decision of a court of law which is binding until set aside on appeal. The implication is that we are back to where our laws kept us: Area Courts and Upper Area Courts remain courts with criminal jurisdiction in Kogi State. The purported directive by the Director of Magistracy is defective, ineffectual and therefore, dead on arrival. I call on all members of the the various Branches of the NBA in Kogi State to join in resisting this attempted administrative suppression of statutory provisions especially as it relates to the criminal jurisdiction of Area Courts and Upper Area Courts in Kogi State. It is an impossibility for a mere directive to take away the jurisdiction of a court validly conferred by statutes. It can never be”, the Lawyer stated.
As at the time of filing this report, we are yet to get official reaction from the Director of Magistracy or the Chief Judge of Kogi State.