‘…Nobody knows, until a case has come to trial, what will emerge from all the “authorities”… Every lawyer is aware of points on which the authorities are conflicting and obscure, and as precedents multiply, so do the conflicts and obscurities’. Sir Carleton Kemp Allen (Case Law: An Unwarrantable Intervention (1935) 51 LQR 333).
Olabisi Olajide Esq., an Associate at Abiodun Layonu & Co., (Legal Practitioners & Insolvency Practitioners) writes from Lagos. firstname.lastname@example.org
The doctrine of judicial precedent in Nigeria, like in any other common law jurisdiction, is designed to achieve consistency and predictability. Legislations most times speak to hypothetical situations. This is especially when legal draftsmen draft to also capture unforeseeable future circumstances which most times are a veritable source of uncertainty. Hence, the duty of the courts to apply the law to real situations as they are met in cases confronting them becomes imperative. In doing this however, it must be noted that the powers of the court are not at large. The duty of the Court must be or must appear to be limited to giving effect only to the intention of the Legislature. As put by Lord Denning in the case of Seaford Court Estate Ltd v. Asher (1949) 2 K.B.481, the court’s duty is to “iron out the crispness” in the law without altering the fabric in which the law is woven. The courts therefore, must not be accused of usurping or substituting their views or opinions with that of the Legislature, not even with the aim of doing justice or substantial justice. Otherwise, the cases coming up in court would be matter of one judge, one opinion, and one law, which will definitely lead to a situation where the legal sphere becomes clogged by a myriad of single instances. The lawyers, operating most times under the tyrannical influence of drive for revenue, would mostly derive utility in the confusion by creating a state of one man, one machete, or better put, a case of “you cite your own authority, I cite mine”, albeit conflicting. Orderliness should not be expected in such a system.