The effect of the Rules of Court in civil jurisprudence especially as it relates to determining the rights and liabilities of individuals and businesses in non-criminal proceedings before the Courts cannot be over-emphasized. However, Practice Directions are guidelines with the force of law enacted to assist such Rules of Court to become more effective in regulating procedure of presenting grievances of parties. While they rank inferior to Rules of Court, Practice Directions direct the form, manner and order of compliance with the general provisions of the Rules of Court. In the light of this, the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Honourable Justice B.B Kanyip, PhD, enacted the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (Filling of Applications/Motions in Trade Union Matters and Marking of Exhibits) Practice Direction (No. 1) 2022. The Practice Direction, although signed on 31st May, 2022 became effective on Monday, 13th June, 2022. It generally applies to all causes and matters in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, except as indicated in its provisions or as may be directed by the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
The Practice Direction mainly enumerates the guidelines to be adopted in the filing of applications and motions in trade union matters and marking of documents/ exhibits. The Practice Direction states that all forms of originating processes with the inclusion of applications and motions, especially those that seek for restraining orders for the holding of conference of delegates of a trade union or conduct of trade union elections, must be filed either in Abuja or Lagos Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN). This seems to raise questions of territorial jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court which is by law nationwide, except where this new filing requirement under the Practice Directions in Lagos or Abuja is limited to registry functions and not in the context of jurisdiction of the Abuja or Lagos Judicial Divisions of the NICN.
Concerning the marking of documents or exhibits, the Practice Direction provides for and mandates the conditions that frontloaded documents in various categories must comply with and they are as follows:
- For a claimant, the statement of fact and the witness(es) statement(s) on oath (as the case may be) must clearly indicate all the document(s) to be relied on at the trial of the case and attach such document(s). also, the document(s) attached must be serially marked in the same way the originating summons was marked;
- The part of the document – paragraph(s), page(s) or other part(s) of the document(s) – to be relied on in the attached document(s) must be concisely referred to and appropriately marked to make it discernible in terms of the fact(s) being proved;
- A claimant who intends to tender a frontloaded document in evidence at the hearing of a matter must indicate if the original of such frontloaded document will be produced for inspection at the hearing of the matter;
- Where the frontloaded documents requires the laying of a foundation before it can be admitted in evidence, the claimant must indicate such and must lay the necessary foundation in the statement of facts and witness statement on oath;
- As for a defendant, the relevant part of all frontloaded document(s), such as the paragraph(s), page(s) etc. to be relied on in the defence of the matter at the trial must be concisely referred to and clearly indicated in the statement of defence and the witness statement on oath;
- A defendant's witness(es) statement(s) on oath must clearly indicate all the document(s) he or she intends to rely on at the trial of the case. The paragraph(s) or page(s) to be relied on in the attached document(s) must be concisely referred to and be appropriately marked as to be discernible in terms of the fact(s) being proved;
- Where a defendant intends to object to the admissibility of a document to be tendered by a claimant, such objection must be clearly indicated in the statement of defence and witness statement on oath, and state the basis of the objection etc.
The effect of non-compliance with the provisions of this practice direction include refusal to accept such non-compliant process(es) for filing at the Registry. In the case where a non-compliant process is accepted for filing at the registry, the Judge to whom such process is assigned for hearing shall treat the process as incompetent and shall; if the process is a claimant's statement of fact, reply to statement of defence and /or witness statement on oath, strike out the entire suit or if the process is a defendant's statement of defence and witness on oath, strike out the process.
Without a doubt, the new Practice Directions would help to achieve expeditious determination of matters at the NIC. NIC Judges can easily locate relevant portions of large bundles of documents as legal practitioners are now mandated to indicate them on processes. Under the new directions, time-wasting objections and other dilatory tactics deployed in trial proceedings are now curtailed through prior notice to the Court and the opposing party. Through court processes under the Practice Directions, ambush litigation of objections during trial at the NICN have been eliminated. With the introduction of the Practice Directions into Nigeria's ecosystem, parties whose disputes fall at the NIC, whether employers, employees, or other ancillary parties, can now expect speedy resolution of disputes where the legal practitioners representing them comply fully with the prescriptions of the Practice Directions. The Practice Directions also challenges legal practitioners to engage in well-articulated Case Theory, and Trial Planning to anticipate objections, and ensure the valid basis for such objections are properly documented, else the court processes/suit would be discarded by the Court.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.