FHC approves virtual case hearings; hearing notices are served through email
The Federal High Court has released new practise guidelines that permit virtual case hearings and electronic notice delivery to attorneys in an effort to expedite the resolution of election-related disputes.
Justice John Tsoho, the Chief Judge of the Court, set new practise guidelines that prohibited courts from granting any party in an election dispute more than two adjournments.
It states that any interlocutory concerns pertaining to the Court's jurisdiction must be postponed until the stage of final decision.
According to a statement the court issued through its Assistant Director, Information, Catherine Oby Christopher, on Sunday, the CJ made the new rules in the exercise of the power conferred on him by section 254, 285 (9), (10) and (14) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Sections 29(5), as well as 84(14) of the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended).
“The purpose of this Practice Directions is to – Provide for a fair, impartial and expeditious determination of pre-election cases; Ensure that in all election matters, the parties focus on matters which are genuinely in issue; Minimize the time spent in dealing with interlocutory matters; Ensure that the possibility of settlement is explored before the parties go into hearing; Minimize undue adjournments and delays in the conduct of matters.
“This Practice Directions shall apply to every pre-election matter brought pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended).
“This Practice Directions shall apply notwithstanding the provisions of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2019.
“The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court may direct that matters be transferred to the appropriate Division or any other Division as may be reasonably practicable considering the given circumstances.
“A party challenging the conduct or outcome of a Primary Election shall join as a Respondent in the suit, the person who emerged winner of the said election or whose name was forwarded by his political party to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
“Every pre-election matter shall be commenced by an Originating Summons as specified I Forms 3, 4 or 5 of Appendix 6 to the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, with such variations as circumstances may require.
“The Originating Summons shall be accomplished by: An affidavit setting out the facts relied upon; Copies of exhibits to be relied upon; A written address; An affidavit of non- multiplicity of action on the same subject matter.
“A Respondent served with an Originating Summons shall within 7 (seven) days from the date of service of Originating Summons on him, file the original copy of duly completed and signed Memorandum of Appearances as specified in Form 11 Appendix 6 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules with such modification or variations as the circumstances may require.
“A Respondent served with an Originating Summons shall within 10 (ten) days of such service, file in the Registry of this Court, a counter affidavit and a written address, which may include any Preliminary Objection raised to the action.
“An Applicant on whom a Respondent serves a defence, if the need arises, shall serve a Reply on that Respondent within 3 (three) days of such service.
“The Written Address shall be concise, typed in double spacing with font size of 12; numbered consecutively and shall not exceed 15 (fifteen) pages.
“Any amendment to the Originating Summons may be made with the leave of Court within 7 (seven) days of service of the Respondent’s Reply.
“All suits wherein the cause of action arose in a Judicial Division and the relief seeks a declaration or to compel or restrain person(s), natural or legal within that Judicial Division, with no consequence outside it, shall be filed received or heard only within that Judicial Division.
“Provided that in other suits, in so far as the relief sought, or potential consequential order(s) or declaration(s) extend beyond the Judicial Division, shall be filed or received at Abuja and assigned by the Chief Judge.
“In all other matters, as may require the attention of the Chief Judge, he may in the appropriate circumstance assign same to an appropriate Judicial Division”.
On service of processes, the new rules, provides that a party shall not serve a notice of an application on another party on the date scheduled for hearing.
“To ensure speedy dispensation of justice, electronic mail and other electronic means may be employed by the Court in order to inform counsel of urgent Court case events.
“Provides that such notification shall be given at least forty-eight hours before the scheduled Court date.
“In line with the provision of Rule 5(2) of the Rule, parties are expected to furnish the Court Registrar with functional telephone numbers and email addresses of themselves and their counsel.
“The Court and the parties shall prevent unnecessary delays and accordingly, not more than two adjournments shall be granted to any party to an action covered by the provisions of the Practice Directions.
“Where a party seeks to change his Counsel during the lifespan of a case, not more than two adjournments shall be granted to him to so do.
“Where it is expedient, and in furtherance of the objectives of this Practice directions, the Court may schedule the time and date of hearing on such day and at such time as may be convenient for the parties.
“Counsel shall ensure that they are present in Court and ready to proceed with their case at all times.
“Where the provisions of the Rule 6(7) of the Rule becomes impracticable by reason of ill-health or any other unavoidable incidence, such Counsel shall ensure that a Counsel of requisite knowledge of the issues before the Court Is present in Court and ready to proceed with the case in his or her stead or apply that the case be heard virtually where practicable; with the consent of parties”, the new practice directions further read.