Brief of argument

The Supreme Court reiterates that a brief of argument must not be struck out for lack of beauty or elegance.

 

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines v. Aloma [2018] 1 NWLR (Pt. 1601) 473 at 509-510, paras. H-A, per Peter-Odili JSC:

“Going along the pathway charted by these earlier decisions of our courts, it can easily be seen in line with what is before this Court that the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal ought not to have denied the Appellant a hearing for the second time on the technical perception of the lack of beauty or elegance of its brief. Indeed, a miscarriage of justice arose on account of what the Court below did.”

Notes:

In the case, the Court of Appeal had struck out the Appellant’s Brief of Argument for being inelegantly drafted and in defiance to the Court of Appeal Rules. As a result, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, concluding that the Brief of Argument having been struck out, there was nothing left to determine in the appeal.

The Appellant’s appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision of the Court of Appeal was successful. The apex Court frowned at the position taken by the Court of Appeal especially taking into consideration that the law is settled that an appeal must be heard and determined notwithstanding the fact that the Brief of Argument filed lacks elegance. It is baffling how the Court of Appeal shut its eyes to the plethora of authorities on the point.

One of the reasons advanced by the Court of Appeal for dismissing the appeal was that the defect in the Appellant’s Brief of Argument went beyond mere technicality to the root of fair hearing of the appeal because it could not consider the appeal without interfering with the arrangement of the issues in favour of the Appellant. This, according to the Court of Appeal, would also amount to descending into the arena and performing “surgical operation” on the Brief.

Unfortunately, the long line of authorities (which held that an inelegantly drafted Brief must not be altogether discountenanced) tend to suggest that even if it would amount to performing the duties of a surgeon, the Court must consider the arguments in the Brief in the interest of justice. In keeping with this, the Supreme Court stressed that a brief of argument is not an end in itself but one of the tools provided for by the Rules of Court to assist the Court in deciding a given case justly.

The other reason furnished by the Court of Appeal was that the Appellant formulated two issues but argued sub-issues, thereby abandoning the main issues. The Supreme Court considered this reason but found that the two issues were indeed argued by the Appellant and that same derives from the grounds of appeal. The law as recently upheld by the Court in Chiadi v. Aggo [2018] 2 NWLR (Pt. 1603) 175 at 231, paras. C-D, is that “The inelegance of an issue with titles or sub-issues…should not distract from the substance of what should be the concern of the appellate court in discharging justice. The Court of Appeal failed to avert its mind to this position.

We commend the Supreme Court for coming to the rescue by setting aside the dismissal order and directing that the appeal be heard by another panel of the Court of Appeal.

Counsel are hereby encouraged to take the issue of brief-writing seriously and where possible, take further courses or training on brief-writing.

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