Sources of Jurisdiction in Nigeria
Jurisdiction is very fundamental in the adjudication of cases in court this is because the issue of jurisdiction is the first thing a court of law which intends to hear and try any cause or matter has to consider.
Sources of Jurisdiction
The locality or place of an incident gives the court the power to entertain such actions or cases that may arise from the incident. The territory where the action took place or where the parties or either of the litigating party reside or carry on business confers on the court in that same locality the power to entertain matters concerning the parties or the cause of action. For example, only the High Court of a State in Nigeria has jurisdiction over the subject matter of a divorce proceeding pursuant to the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 2004.
- The Constitution:
The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the fundamental source of jurisdiction of the Courts. Section 6 of the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 generally provides for the court to try and deal with matters affecting citizens and corporate bodies.
The constitution also provides for the kinds of courts and the nature of the matter the should adjudicate. The state High Courts, federal high Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, the Customary Court and the Sharia Courts are provided for in the constitution. The constitution delimiting the powers of these courts and their officials basically becomes a source of jurisdiction.
- Other statute books –
Though the constitution fundamentally provides for the jurisdiction of the court, some other statute books like the court procedure rules, and some enabling statutes creating certain laws go a long way in determining how the powers of the courts and the officials are to be exercised. These statutes state when, where and how the courts would exercise the jurisdiction conferred on it within a given legal system.
What Confers Jurisdiction
(i) The Constitution of the Court:
Under the Nigeria legal system, the constitution of the court varies with the kind of court in question. A customary court is properly constituted by a president and at least two or other four members as the case may be. An Area court is presided over by one judge sitting at a time. Magistrate and District Court are presided by one Magistrate and judge respectively.
A High Court is presided by a judge, and a high court in the northern Nigeria sitting on appeal is presided by two judges. The court of Appeal is presided by three justices. The Supreme Court sitting on appellate jurisdiction is properly constituted by five justices and when sitting on its original jurisdiction must be presided by seven justices.
The qualification of the members of bench is a crucial issue in determining whether or not the said court has jurisdiction. The judges of a customary court are to be learned in the traditions and customs of the people living in the locality.
For a Sharia court, the presiding judges ought to be a person well lettered in Islamic law and Moslem cultures. For the Magistrate / District Court judges, they must be persons who are qualified legal practitioners of two years post call. The judges of state/Federal high Court must be qualified legal practitioners of not less than ten years post call experience.
The court of Appeal being an appellate practitioner’s court must have judges who are qualified legal practitioner with not less than twelve years post call experience. In practice, the person to be appointed a judge of the court of Appeal in addition to the 12 years’ experience, must have presided over a court of unlimited civil ‘jurisdiction, or court with original jurisdiction. Therefore, it could reasonably said that the issue of qualification of the magistrates / judges forms a pillar for the determination of jurisdiction of the court.
(iii) Subject Matter:
The subject matter of an action helps in determining whether a court has jurisdiction over the matter. The subject matter is basically the cause of action which is the resultant claim emanating from a party against the other in a law suit. Subject matters range from, contract, torts, matrimonial causes, election petition Recovery of premises, criminal cause, maritime, Intellectual property matters, interlocutory applications, land matters etc.
As the cause of action varies, so are the courts conferred with the jurisdiction to entertain same. The place of situs where the cause of action originates also form a determining factors with respect to the particular court that would be conferred with jurisdiction. For a cause of action on contract or torts there are limitation laws of respective states which determine the period, within which such actions are to be initiated.
For Matrimonial Causes Acts provides that, it is only the state high Court that have jurisdiction to entertain same. For election petitions, the Electoral Act provides for the respective Election tribunals that are empowered to hear respective election petitions.
For the cases of recovery of Premises, the recovery of premises Act provides that both the Magistrate/District court and High Court have original jurisdiction to entertain them depending on the amount of rent charged on the said premise. For criminal cases, the Magistrate court, the State High Court and Federal High Court are conferred with the jurisdiction of trying criminals depending on the offence in question.
The criminal procedure Act and the criminal procedure code all provide for the respective grades of courts that would try respective offences. Worthy of note is that Capital offences i.e. offences which penalties are death sentences are only triable by high courts. Such offences are treason, murder and armed robbery.
For cases of Maritime, copyright, trademark. Designs etc. The provisions of the constitutions confer jurisdiction in such matters on the Federal High Court and no other. For cases that are going on appeal, it is only the court higher than the trial court in the order of hierarchy that has jurisdiction to entertain such matters.
For land matters, it is the State High court that has the jurisdiction to hear such matters. Having considered all these, it is clear that the issue of ether a court of law has or has not the jurisdiction to entertain a suit cannot be properly determined without critically considering what the cause of action is. The cause of action determines which court and how the case could be dully initiated.
(IV) Duly initiation of Case:
The fourth issue to consider as to what confers jurisdiction on a court is the proper initiation of the case. The rules of court, the statute creating certain establishment / institutions, the constitution of the country and certain rules of practice clearly stipulate the procedure to be adopted in the initiation of certain cases.
For instance, the Recovery of premises Act provides that before the initiation of an action under the Act, the required statutory Notices must be issued i.e (the quit Notice by the Landlord /Agent and the Notice of owners’ intention to recover possession). Failure to satisfy these conditions, the trial court would lack the jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
The suit against some government institutions/corporations cannot be maintained without giving the required statutory Notices for the initiation of the said suit. In this case, the trial court would lack the jurisdiction to entertain the suit for not being duly initiated. The proper service of court processes is a vital issue in the commencement of cases in the courts.
The rules of courts provide that the originating processes are to be served personally on the defendant, and failure to do so would amount to the court not having jurisdiction for improper service or non-service of the court processes.
The court processes which ought to be dully certified by the court Registrar and the required filing fees paid would result to lack of jurisdiction where these required statutory mandatory conditions are not observed.
From the forgoing, we have considered that four major things that confer jurisdiction of the court and also the extent to which the statute books provide for the genuine concernment of jurisdiction on the courts.