Did the Supreme Court Just Overrule Okafor v. Nweke?

On 23rd February 2018, in the case of Heritage Bank Limited v. Bentworth Finance (Nigeria) Limited, the Supreme Court of Nigeria gave judgment validating a statement of claim which had been signed in the name of the law firm Beatrice Fisher & Co. Even though the objecting party relied on the notorious case of Okafor v. Nweke among others, the Supreme Court refused to void the statement of claim.

The basis for the decision of the Supreme Court are as follows:

  1. A statement of claim is not an originating process, therefore signing the statement of claim in the name of a law firm is not an irregularity that goes to the root of the case. According to the court, not all procedural irregularities will render a proceedings void. The effect of an irregularity will depend on the nature thereof.
  2. The court held that signing a process in the name of a law firm is a procedural defect which the objecting party had by its conduct waived. A substantive jurisdictional issue is premised on whether the court to vested with jurisdiction to adjudicate on an issue. A defect of this nature renders an adjudication void. On the other hand, procedural jurisdiction issues arise where the question revolves around whether a court process was filed in accordance with prescribed practice and whether the court can countenance it. While procedural jurisdiction can be waived, substantive jurisdiction issues cannot be waived. The court held that the objecting party having not challenged the defective statement of claim at the High Court and the Court of Appeal, would be deemed to have waived its right to raise the issue.

For more information contact Maxwell Ukpebor.

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