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Court dismisses Oxford University’s objection to suit against wrong definitions

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Court. Photo; lowyinstitute

Justice Ibironke Harrison of the Lagos High Court sitting in Igbosere has dismissed the preliminary objection filed by the University of Oxford challenging the validity of the suit by a Nigerian lawyer, Emmanuel Ofoegbu.

Ofoegbu had filed the N10million action against Oxford University and Oxford University Press for wrong definitions of the words ‘Mortgagee and Mortgagor’ in Oxford Mini reference Dictionary.

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But the defendants challenged the competence of the suit because the writ of summon was not endorsed with the words stated in section 97 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and that the 2nd defendant, Oxford University Press is not a juristic person.

Section 97 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act provides that writ of summons issued in one State for service outside the jurisdiction shall be endorsed with the words to the effect that “this writ of summons issued in X State is to be served in Y State.”

Ruling on the matter, Justice Harrison held that the writs of summons issued and served in the case did not require to be endorsed with the word stated in section 97 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act.

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According to the judge, the section is concerned only with the writ of summons issued in one State in Nigeria to be served in another State within the country and therefore does not apply in respect of summons to be served outside Nigeria like in Oxford, United Kingdom.

On the second leg of the objection, which borders on whether the 2nd defendant is a juristic person, the judge said: “ The question is: if the 2nd defendant is a department of the 1st defendant, can it be a juristic person? It has been contended that it is a department of the University of Oxford. It is trite that he who asserts must prove – the claimant who states that the 2nd defendant is a juristic person has not put forward any certificate of incorporation or statute setting it up as a legal entity that can sue or be sued.

“The court finds that not being a juristic person – the 2nd defendant can’t be sued and since they are as alleged a department of the 1st defendant, whatever affects the 1st defendant will naturally affect and bind all its departments.

“The court also finds that since the contention is that it is a department of 1st defendant, they do not require separate notification of intention to resolve the dispute in line with the pre-action protocol as per the practice direction No.2 2019,” the court said.

Justice Harrison subsequently struck out the name of Oxford University Press in the suit and dismissed the preliminary objection of the 1st defendant.

The case has been fixed to September 29, 2020, for further direction.

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