An overview of the proposed National Industrial Court of Nigeria (Civil Procedure) Rules 2015
SITTING to the exclusion of all courts in the resolution of employment, labour and industrial relations disputes, and, arguably a court of last resort on almost all the items it exercises jurisdiction on, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) is about to introduce a new set of Rules to guide the administration of civil justice system in the Court. It is the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (Civil Procedure) Rules 2015.
Jurisprudence of the Rules
Much like the overriding objective under the rules of courts modelled after the Woolf’s Report –and which in turn inspired the English (Civil Procedure) Rules (CPR), the underlying objectives of the proposed Rules appears intended to further define the culture within which litigation will be conducted.To be sure, the main changes envisaged are in the areas of fast-track case management of all civil matters before the court, greater encouragement of settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes, proactive judicial management of litigation timetables (and resources) with respect to the hearing of interlocutory applications, checkmating dilatory tactics by practitioners and so on.
It is in the light of the foregoing that a few of its novel provisions are highlighted to see how the proposed Rules is poised at transforming a fundamentally different landscape of civil litigation at the NIC. Suffice to say that, as with every other human activity given to some margin of errors, a few pitfalls are also identified.
Frontloading system: explicit on details
Comparatively, the provisions of the proposed Rules are more explicit on details with respect to the frontloaded processes, contents of the accompanying forms and documents, timescales for delivering the frontloaded processes and so on. There is also an emphasis on the particular forms to be employed in the commencement of specific proceedings and requirement of pleading with sufficient particularity.
It is helpful to note that there is no requirement of frontloading of a pre-action notice or protocol form by which a plaintiff is expected to show attempt(s) to have the matter amicably resolved prior to instituting a suit. A significant matter here, which concerns the discretion of the court as opposed to its jurisdiction, is that the court has a discretion to declare an action incompetent where a pre-action notice is statutorily required to have been issued prior to the institution of the action, and there is no evidence of same being issued before the court (O. 3 r. 21).
It is also noteworthy to mention that the proposed Rules mandate an opposing party to promptly indicate (by filing an ‘acknowledgment’) any frontloaded document or exhibit whose admissibility he intends to object to at plenary hearing, or he loses the opportunity to take the objection at the hearing as ‘any document and exhibits contained in the schedule which is not objected to by the defendant(s) shall be deemed admitted and shall not be allowed to be objected to at the trial, except as the Court may otherwise direct.’(O.3 r. 10 (3). This provision can however be easily faulted as the principle of law is that the admission of document without objection does not empower the court to admit a document that is in no way or circumstances admissible.
Two points may, however, be made. The National Industrial Court Act, 2006, Section 12 (2) (b) thereof, envisages a situation where the Court may depart from applying the provisions of the Evidence Act in furtherance of justice, so the Court electing to demonstrate a less inhibited approach in admitting an otherwise inadmissible piece(s) of evidence may arguably be on good stead here. On a related note though, the faint suggestion that parties may by consent render otherwise legally inadmissible evidence valid is not exactly the full picture here as the enacting rule also confers the Court with discretion to nonetheless direct otherwise. National Industrial Court is one court for (almost) all purposes
The federal nature of the Court envisages a single national geographic jurisdiction with judicial divisions being created simply for the purpose of adjudicatory convenience. That is, the NICN has no state jurisdiction but national jurisdiction even as divisions exist in the states of the federation. Premised on this viewpoint, and as demonstrated by the decisions of the NICN on the point, service of court papers issued in one judicial division on a defendant/party in another judicial division was never intended to be subjected to the formalities/requirements of ‘endorsement for service outside State’ (as provided for in the Sheriffs & Civil Process Act) or obtaining leave of court (under the rules of Court) for issuance for service of court processes within Nigeria.
This, however, was not so expressly stated in the 2007 NICN Rules, and the NICN has, in recent times, been subjected to a spate of preliminary objections seeking to extend the rule in Owners of the MV “Arabella” vs. Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation reported in (2008) 11 N.W.L.R (Pt. 1097) 182,to the NICN. In MV Arabella, the Supreme Court was emphatic that the arguments of a singlenational geographic jurisdiction of the Federal High Court notwithstanding, leave is still required for the issuance and service of an originating process from one judicial division of the Federal High Court to another. Put simply, Abuja was declared to be ‘out of jurisdiction’ of the territorial jurisdiction of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.
Now, the NIC is a superior court of record with co-ordinate status with the Federal High Court and a State High Court. Much like the Federal High Court, the coverage of the NIC’s jurisdiction is nationwide, and it is also divided into divisions. As may be expected, counsel for the defendant in many of the cases before the court have sought to take advantage of the Arabella’s wicket in arguing that permission of court is required to validate process issued from, for instance, the Lagos judicial division of the court for service on a defendant resident in Abuja. The potential scope of the rule in MV Arabella, the breath of the argument proposed, should be applicable in such circumstance. And, the NICN has- of late- expended scarce judicial time writing tomes of rulings and judgments, declining the invitation though. See, for instance, decisions of the NICN in Suit NIC/LA/157/2011 Francis OluyemiOlamiju Esq. v. Local Government State Commission, Ekiti State &Anor(ruling delivered on March 5, 2012); ;Suit No: NICN/CA/75/2012 Bright ChineduWodi v. Differential Aluminum and Steel Company Ltd &ors(ruling delivered: 2014-01-21; perKanyip J.); Suit No: NICN/PHC/60/2014 Mr. OhakaUmesi David v. Mr. Kola T. Adefila & Ors (Judgment delivered: 2014-02-06; per Anuwe J.)andIkeegbulam v Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria(2011) 23 NLLR (Pt. 65) Pg. 263.