Letter must be filed in court.

A letter meant for the court to take note and act upon must be properly filed.


The Registered Trustees of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria v. Etim [2017] 13 NWLR (Pt 1581) 1 at 41 , paras. E-H, per I. T. Muhammad, JSC:

“It is important to point out as well, that if a document is meant for the court to take note and act thereon, rules of court have made provisions for formal filing of such a document or documents with the registry of the court, for which a nominal fee is payable upon assessment by the registry staff, who authenticate the filing of that document and proceed to file same for the court’s attention. All other ways or methods such as writing letters or petitions informing the Chief Judge/Chief Justice/Head of Court and or Chief Registrar (including his subordinate registrars) are purely administrative and have no force of law…”

Blogger’s Note:

A few things need to be clarified as it relates to the above statement of the law. Firstly, it is not every document presented for filing that requires the payment of any fee, nominal or otherwise. The process of filing a document for the purpose of making it a court process properly so called begins with the initialling or endorsement of such document by the authorised staff in the court registry. Initialling or endorsement simply involves making a mark or signature (including sometimes the name or initials of the initialling officer) and importantly, date. Some documents like a letter (e.g. for adjournment) addressed to the registrar of a court for the court’s attention need only to be initialled. No fee is usually required to be paid. Therefore, in order to meet the minimum requirement of filing, the letter must be presented to the registry for initialling without more and then presented to the court registrar. There are however other letters (such as application for payment of default fees or for search) which, like originating processes, motions, etc, require not only to be initialled, but the initialling officer may minute upon it and nominal fee subsequently paid based on assessment. Secondly, letters or petitions informing the Chief Judge/Chief Justice/Head of Court and or Chief Registrar (including his subordinate registrars) of certain issues may be purely administrative but can have the force of law in certain circumstances such as where copies of such letters duly acknowledged are subsequently filed along other processes in a court action. In that case, they enjoy the force of law. In other words, at the point of delivering the said letters or petitions, no formal filing is required before the receiving office can act on same administratively.

Letter must be properly filedWhat happened in the case at hand was that the Appellant filed a suit and also filed a Motion ex parte for interlocutory injunction. The trial Court refused to hear the Motion ex parte but directed that the Respondent be put on notice. The Appellant complied. The Respondent filed a Memorandum of Appearance only without filing any response to the application for injunction. On the date slated for hearing, i.e., 19/12/2000, the Respondent was absent. The trial Court proceeded with the hearing and granted the application. The Respondent appealed contending that he had written a letter for adjournment dated 19/12/2000, the day the application was heard. Although there was no proof that the letter was brought to the attention of the trial Court or that same was served on the Appellant, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the trial Court. The Appellant’s appeal to the Supreme Court was rightly allowed. The apex Court held that the purported letter ought to be discountenanced even if placed before the trial Court as same was not properly filed. (See page 42 of the report). The Court also frowned at the fact that the letter was not served on the Appellant and same was written the same date the case came up for hearing of the application. The Court further held that the Respondent ought to have filed a counter-affidavit to the Motion as a mere Memorandum of Appearance did not suffice. (See page 33 of the report).  The apex Court was not persuaded by the holding of the Court of Appeal to the effect that the trial Court ought to adjourn the matter since the application came up for the first time for hearing. (See page 37 of the report).

The Court further took the position that, the Respondent, having been duly served with the application, the trial Court was right to proceed with the hearing. In rendering the opinion of the Supreme Court on this, I. T. Muhammad, JSC said: “My Lords, service of process in a trial, is what the spinal cord is, to a human being.” (See page 31 of the report). This stresses the significance of service. Above all, the Supreme Court emphasised the trite principle that the grant of an application for adjournment is purely discretionary.

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