The consequences of lack of Jurisdiction by a court
From our discussion so far we have been able to establish the fact that jurisdiction is not only important in judicial proceedings, but is a sine quo non before a judicial proceeding is commenced. The essence of jurisdiction cannot be overemphasized as this ensures the fair and proper determination of intents of the parties, and the lack of it makes the proceeding an exercise in vain.
Jurisdiction ensure the fair proper determination of interests of the parties: Where the statute confers jurisdiction on a court and the court is qualified to entertain the suit, the subject matter which the court is to adjudicate falls under the category which the same court has power to entertain, and the case is duly initiated then the proper thing which the law requires has been completed. Consequently, the doing of the proper thing as required by law entails fairness.
In civil proceedings, the civil jurisdiction of the court having been established, and the court holding at a place within the judicial division where the cause of action arose or the parties are resident, with the attendant overriding factor that the cause of action is one which the said civil court has unquestionable jurisdiction, then the proper determination of the interest of parties is much ascertainable.
The same thing applies in criminal proceedings, where the liberty of otherwise of a person is in question, the certification of the jurisdiction of the court to try the offence sets the course of fair hearing in motion. The proper determination of a suit basically lies on the jurisdiction of a court to do so.
Where the question arises as to the jurisdiction of the court, it is essential to examine the laws defining the jurisdiction of the court both at the time the action was instituted and up to the time judgment was given. So long as a court acquired jurisdiction before delivering a judgment, its decision cannot be attached on the ground of want of jurisdiction.
The question of jurisdiction strikes at the root of any cause or matter and consequently raises the issue of the competence of the court to adjudicate in a particular proceedings33 Any defect in competence is fatal as such proceedings become null and void; it would not matter how well conducted and decided the proceedings were seeing Madukolu V. Nkemdilim (1962), Adisa v. Oyinwola.
In discussing a fair and proper determination of the rights of parties, recourse must be had to the claim which a party present before a court as, the basis for the court to assume jurisdiction. A court has no jurisdiction to make an order which has not been pleaded or prayed for by a litigant, such order is wrong and will be annulled on appeal. A trial court should not import in his judgment issues not properly raised at the trial.
For a court to do so would amount to granting a party what he has not asked for which also raises the issue of bias and which on the long run erodes the jurisdiction of the court on the basis of lack of fair hearing. There is no doubt that in our adversary system of adjudication the question of jurisdiction is very fundamental.
In fact, it is so fundamental that adjudicating court should determine the issue first before starting any proceeding. And if the court proceeded and it was found that the court had no jurisdiction in the matter, all the proceeding however well conducted amounts to nothing and nullity.
It is also trite law that the issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any time by a party even an appeal in the Supreme Court. This goes to elucidate the importance of jurisdiction to any judicial proceeding, as the Supreme Court stated in the case of Avman Ltd v Akuma Ind. ltd & ors, Fabiyi v Adeniyi there is also no doubt that the issue of jurisdiction being that it is the life wire of any action in court, must be looked into first, because any proceeding of court in the absence of jurisdiction is futile and the whole proceedings rendered a nullity, and where in appeal the issue of jurisdiction is raised, the court has a duty to consider the issue timeously before taking any further step in the matter. To prosecute an offence before a court which is not properly constituted so as to assume jurisdiction smacks of breach of the right of fair hearing as the justice of the case would not be assume.
b) Lack of Jurisdiction makes the proceeding an exercise in vain:
The Latin maxim EX NIHILO NIHIL FIT, something cannot be placed on nothing, explains the operational; status of the concept of jurisdiction in the Nigeria legal system, it could be unequivocally stated that any judicial proceeding without jurisdiction is null and void. It is both fundamental and elementary principle in the adjudicatory process that where the jurisdiction of the court or the judge is in issue in respect of a matter, that issue must first be considered and disposed off. This is because any determination in the absence of jurisdiction is a nullity.38 The criteria set by the court in the case of Madukolu V. Nkemdilim and numerous other decisions of the court that a court has and can only exercise jurisdiction when:
- a) It is properly constituted as regards number and qualification of members of the bench, and no member is disqualification of members of the bench; and no member is disqualified for one reason or another, and
- b) The subject matter of the case is within its jurisdiction and there is no feature in case which prevents the court from exercising jurisdiction, and
- c) The case comes before the court initiated by due process of law, and upon fulfillment of any condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction has remained the guiding and abiding principles in the issue of jurisdiction.
A judicial proceeding where the requisite number of the bench is not met or any member of the bench is not qualified or is disqualified for any reason going to the root of such proceeding, and any decision emanating from such proceeding is challengeable for want of jurisdiction.
Where the subject matter is one that court in question is not permitted by statute to try considering the grades of courts and their corresponding jurisdiction, the exercise of adjudication of such matter amounts to an exercise in futility.
Another instance is where the statutory requirement for the due initiation of the proceeding has not been met, or where a party has not done the thing which ought to be done before the case could be brought before the court, anything which the court proceeds to do would become a waste of time and resources since the issue of jurisdiction is a sine quo non.
If a court for any reason whatsoever fails refuses or neglects to consider and assure itself that it has jurisdiction to enquire into the rights of the parties in a given case, the whole essence of justice stands the chance of being defeated.