Effect of Plea of Guilty under Summary Criminal Trial Procedure of the Federal High Court
In the Supreme Court of Nigeria
Holden at Abuja
On Friday, the 18th Day of December, 2020
Before Their Lordships
Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili
Kudirat Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun
John Inyang Okoro
Justices, Supreme Court
Saliu Amuda Appellant
Federal Republic of Nigeria Respondent
“…IN SUMMARY TRIALS, ONCE AN ACCUSED PERSON PLEADS GUILTY, HE IS PRESUMED TO HAVE ADMITTED IN SUBSTANCE THE VERACITY OF THE FACTS ALLUDED IN THE CHARGE AND IT BECOMES UNNECESSARY FOR THE PROSECUTION TO LEAD ANY EVIDENCE TO PROVE THE CHARGE WHOSE MATERIAL PARTICULARS THE ACCUSED ALREADY ADMITTED.”
(Lead judgement delivered by Honourable Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, JSC)
The Appellant was charged before the Federal High Court for unlawful possession of 550 grammes of cannabis sativa, contrary to Section 11(d) of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Act. On 3rd March 2010, the Charge was read to the Appellant and he pleaded guilty to the Charge after indicating that he understood the Charge. The court enquired from the Appellant whether he had anything to say. The Appellant pleaded facts he felt could mitigate his punishment and asked for mercy. The trial court convicted and sentenced him to fifteen (15) years imprisonment with hard labour.
Unhappy with the decision of the trial court, the Appellant unsuccessfully appealed to the Court of Appeal. Still displeased, the Appellant further appealed to the Supreme Court. Without filing a Notice of Preliminary Objection at the Supreme Court, the Respondent raised and argued an issue on the competence of the Appellant’s Notice of Appeal.
Issues for Determination
The following issues, as extrapolated from the issues formulated by the parties, were determined by the Apex Court –
- Whether this appeal is rendered incompetent by virtue of the failure of the Appellant to personally endorse the Notice of Appeal as required by the mandatory provisions of Order 9 Rule 3(1) of the Supreme Court Rules, 1985 (as amended).
- Whether in the circumstances and on the facts of this case, the Court of Appeal was right in affirming the conviction by the trial court based on the Appellant’s plea of guilty considering the summary jurisdiction of the trial Federal High Court and the line of decided cases of this Honourable Court.
- Whether the Court of Appeal considered and properly evaluated the Appellant’s Reply Brief before the Learned Justices of the court in order to accord him fair hearing.
On the first issue, Counsel for the Respondent contended that the Appellant’s Notice of Appeal is incompetent as same was signed by the Appellant’s counsel and not by the Appellant. He relied on Order 9 Rule 3(1) of the Supreme Court Rules of 1985 (as amended) and the case of RALPH UWAZURUIKE & ORS v A.G. FEDERATION (2013) ALL FWLR (Pt. 691) 520. In response, the Appellant opined that the Respondent’s first issue ought to have been brought by way of Preliminary Objection. Countering the submission of the Respondent on the issue, counsel argued that the Appellant’s Notice of Appeal is competent in view of the proviso to Order 9 Rule 3 of the Supreme Court Rules. He cited the case of ARUAEME v THE STATE (1964) LPELR 25 191.
Arguing the second issue, counsel submitted on behalf of the Appellant that the provision of Section 33 of the Federal High Court Act which provides for the Summary Procedure of Trial at the Federal High Court does not supersede Section 218 of the Criminal Procedure Act (“CPA”) which deals with recording the plea of guilty of an accused person during arraignment. Counsel contended that the conviction of the Appellant before the trial court on his plea of guilty cannot be supported by law. He argued further that the substance he was said to have unlawfully been in possession of was not placed before the trial court as a prohibited drug and so the facts were not placed before the court to allow the Appellant admit all the essential facts constituting the offence. Contrariwise, counsel for the respondent argued that while the Federal High Court is expected to apply the provisions of the CPA in the exercise of its criminal jurisdiction, such application must not derogate from the summary nature of criminal proceedings before the court. Counsel contended that the trial court complied fully and/or substantially with Sections 215, 218, 285 (1) and (2) of the CPA.
On the third issue, counsel for the Appellant submitted that the swipe the Court of Appeal took at the Appellant’s Reply Brief occasioned a miscarriage of justice and that if the Reply Brief had been considered, the course of event would have changed. He relied on the case of YADIS NIG. LTD. v GREAT NIG. INSURANCE CO. LTD. (2007) 3 NSCQR 495 at 510. Contradicting the position of the Appellant, counsel for the Respondent argued that the court discharged the responsibilities placed on it in observing the principles of fair hearing and relied on the case of ALHAJA OLADOJA SANUSI v OREITAN ISHOLA AMEYOGUN (1992) NWLR (Pt. 237) 527.
Court’s Judgement and Rationale
Deciding the first issue, the Supreme Court quoted the proviso to Order 9 Rule 3 of the Supreme Court Rules which states that “provided that, notwithstanding that the provisions herein have not been strictly complied with, the court may, in the interest of justice and for good and sufficient case shown, entertain an appeal if satisfied that the intending appellant has exhibited a clear intention to appeal to the court against the decision of the court below”. The apex court held that the proviso gives the court the leeway or discretion with which to manoeuvre through in the interest of justice to ensure that an Appellant is not shut out from ventilating his grouse on appeal even though he was not able to sign the Notice of Appeal. The court relied on the decision in AMALGAMATED TRUSTEES LTD v ASSOCIATED DISCOUNT HOUSE LTD. (2007) LPELR 454 and concluded that the Appellant’s Notice of Appeal is valid and within the provisions of Order 9 Rule 3(1) of the Supreme Court Rules.
On the second issue, the Supreme Court held that by the provision of Section 33(1) and (2) of the Federal High Court Act, the Federal High Court is expected to exercise its criminal jurisdiction, to apply the provisions of the CPA in such a manner that does not derogate from the summary nature of the criminal proceedings before the court. Their Lordships considered the provisions of Sections 218 and 285 of the CPA which deals with recording the plea of an accused person during arraignment and found that the trial court fully and substantially complied with the law. The court held that in summary trials, once an accused person pleads guilty, he is presumed to have admitted in substance the veracity of the facts alluded in the charge and it becomes unnecessary for the prosecution to lead any evidence to prove the charge whose material particulars the accused already admitted. Further to the foregoing, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal which affirmed the conviction and sentence of the Appellant by the trial court.
Regarding the third issue, the Supreme Court reviewed the Record of Appeal and found that the Court of Appeal considered the Appellant’s Reply Brief. Their Lordships noted the observation by the Court of Appeal that the Appellant’s Reply Brief contained a repetition of the arguments in the main brief and the court adequately dealt with the submissions in the Reply Brief.
Prince Abioye A. Oloyede with Asanika for the Appellant.
J.N. Sunday, Director, Prosecution and Legal Services NDLEA with M.T. Kassa, Assistant Legal Officer for the Respondent.
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