CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE – CRIMINAL TRIAL/PROCEEDINGS – Effect of the absence of an accused person at the address stage of a criminal trial


“At the date fixed for final oral addresses that is, on November 20, 2015, the respondent was reported sick by his counsel. That notwithstanding, the trial Court insisted that final oral addresses be taken. That was as, already, shown in the absence of the sick respondent. On December 1, 2015, the trial Court convicted and sentenced the said respondent to a term of imprisonment. In effect, the respondent was denied the opportunity of presenting his final oral address before his conviction. My Lords, I had the opportunity of addressing this type of anomaly in Kalu v State (2017) LPELR – 4210 (SC). Speaking for this Court, I held that: … it is undeniable that Section 294 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria consecrates the right to final addresses, Sodipo v Lemminkainen Oy [1985] 2 NWLR (pt 8) 547; Mustapha v Governor of Lagos State [1987] 2 NWLR (pt 58) 539; Ijebu Ode v Balogun and Company Ltd (1991) LPELR – 1463 (SC) 31- 32; F-A; Okeke v State (2003) LPELR – 2436 (SC) 19 -20; F-A. The said expression ‘final addresses’ means the last or ultimate speech or submission made to the Court in respect of the matter before it, before the delivery of the judgment. Put simply, it is the last address before the delivery of the judgment, Sodipo v Lemminkainen Oy (supra); Mustapha v Governor of Lagos State (supra); Ijebu Ode v Balogun and Company Ltd (supra); Okeke v State (supra). It [final address] is the penultimate part of the three most important portions of the trial period; the first, being the hearing of the evidence; while the last is the judgement, Okeke v State(2003) LPELR -2436 (SC) 19 -20; F-A. Such is its pedestal in the administration of justice that when counsel or a party is denied this right [that is, of address], the trial Court is, equally, deprived of its enormous benefits. Its inevitable consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has been occasioned, Okafor and Ors v A.G., Anambra and Ors (1991) LPELR -2414 (SC) 28; A-C; Obodo v. Olomu [1987] 3 NWLR (pt.59) 111; Adigunv. A-G of Oyo State (supra). This explains why a party must have the same right as given to his adversary to offer, by his counsel, the final address on the law in support of his case, Ndukauba v Kolomo and Anor (2005) LPELR -1976 (SC) 12; A-D. It would thus seem obvious that, the draftsperson of this section [Section 294] had in mind the eloquent views of a distinguished American Jurist, Dillon, who observed in his Laws and Jurisprudence of England and America that: I feel reasonably assured of my judgment where I have heard counsel, and a very diminished faith where the case has not been orally argued, for mistakes, errors, fallacies and flaws elude us in spite of ourselves unless the case is pounded and hammered at the Bar… [Italics supplied for emphasis] Now, prior to the evolution of brief writing in various Rules of our Courts, counsel, actually, ‘pounded and hammered [their arguments] at the Bar.’ In place of that practice which has now fallen into desuetude, one of the new features introduced by these rules is the concept of advocacy in writing, that is, brief writing, whose main purpose is to curtail the time that should have been wasted in lengthy oral arguments, Onifade v Olayiwola and Ors (1990) 7 NWLR (pt 161) 130, 160: oral arguments in which verbose counsel beat out the bush, Omojasola v Plison Fisko Nig.Ltd and Ors (1990) 5 NWLR (Pt 151) 434, 441. Thus, although oratorical prowess was previously a great asset in advocacy, due to the great changes which have been wrought in the Court rules, proficiency in the presentation of briefs has taken the place of brilliancy in oral advocacy, Gaamstac Eng. Ltd and Anor v FCDA (1988) 4 NWLR (pt 88) 296, 305-306. [per Nweze, JSC in kalu v State (supra) 9 et seq] I adopt the above views as part of my reasoning in this contribution. I thus, entirely, agree with the leading judgment that it is the respondent’s constitutional right to be heard through his written/oral address or Counsel’s address on his behalf. It is for these, and the more detailed, reasons in the leading judgment that I shall dismiss this appeal.” Per CHIMA CENTUS NWEZE, JSC in STATE v. YANGA (2021-LCER-40500-SC) (Pp 19 – 22; Paras A – D)

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