Pleadings in Civil Suit in Nigeria

Pleadings in Civil Suit in Nigeria

What is Pleadings?

Pleadings are the written statements of the parties setting forth in a summary form the material facts on which each relies in support of his claim or defence, as the case may be.-HASSAN v. BUHARI & ORS (2022) LPELR-56677(CA).

They are the means by which the parties are enabled to state and frame the issues which are in dispute between them and it operates to define and delimit with clarity and precision the real matters in controversy between the parties upon which they can prepare and present their respective cases and upon which the Court will be called to adjudicate between them – Aminu Vs Hassan (2014) 5 NWLR (Pt 1400) 287,

Importance and nature of pleadings

In adversarial civil litigations, pleadings are the foundational structures of the parties’ cases. Pleadings not only depict the nature of, but also set out the factual parameters of the parties’ respective cases.- ADEMOK CONTINENTAL LTD & ANOR v. OGUN STATE GOVERNMENT (2022) LPELR-56418(CA)

It is from those pleadings that the issues in controversy between the parties are discerned. Parties are bound by their pleadings. Similarly, the Court is also bound by the pleadings: See Oke-Bola v. Molake (1975) 12 SC 61 at 62, where this Court per Sowemimo JSC. (as he then was) emphasized the importance of Courts allowing themselves only to be governed and/or directed by the issues raised through the parties’ pleadings. Pleadings must be seen as the engine room of litigation in cases fought in the High Court on the basis of pleading.

In YAHAYA & ANOR v DANKWAMBO & ORS (2016) LPELR-48364(SC), the Apex Court, per Ogunbiyi, JSC held at pages 70 – 71, para. F, that: The party’s pleading is the most important requirement of his case before the Court. It must be well explicit, clear and specific to the point and must also be consistent bearing in mind that the outcome of an appeal is a product of the original pleading as set out at the trial Court. It is one and the same case from its inception right through the various stages of the appeal and does not change.

 

Aim/object/purpose of pleadings

A case that was fought on pleadings must be resolved on those pleadings and anything not pleaded will go to no issue. It is not the duty of the Court to distribute largesse by granting unclaimed relief.

The aim of pleading is to allow the other party to know what he is going to meet as the case against him. An agreement was pleaded but that agreement was not before the Court and the normal thing to do by the trial Judge would have been a dismissal of the respondent’s case.

Essence of pleadings in Civil Suit in Nigeria

The primary object of pleadings are sacrosanct, and is to put the other party on notice. The Court is not allowed to just pick up facts not pleaded to support pleadings. The parties cannot do that either.

It is elementary that in an action predicated on pleadings, the very foundation of the action is the pleadings of the parties. Pleadings are the written statements of the parties setting forth in a summary form the material facts on which each relies in support of his claim or defence, as the case may be.

They are the means by which the parties are enabled to state and frame the issues which are in dispute between them and it operates to define and delimit with clarity and precision the real matters in controversy between the parties upon which they can prepare and present their respective cases and upon which the Court will be called to adjudicate between them – Aminu Vs Hassan (2014) 5 NWLR (Pt 1400) 287.

Rules of Pleadings in Civil Suit in Nigeria

It is an elementary principle of the law of pleadings that facts must be concisely, precisely and accurately pleaded. Pleadings should not give any room for doubt or speculation as to its real content.-OSUJI v. EKEOCHA (2009) LPELR-2816(SC)

A Statement of Claim must clearly state the facts to be relied upon at the hearing and not embark on any rigmarole. Where facts in a Statement of Claim are not precisely stated, a defendant will be in some difficulty to respond accurately to the facts. So too the Statement of Defence as it relates to a Reply.

It is trite that pleadings does not constitute evidence. Facts pleaded must be proved by credible evidence, but evidence in support of facts not pleaded goes to no issue.-FALESE v. FALADE (2021) LPELR-54964(CA).

Averments in Pleadings in Civil Suit in Nigeria

Averments in a pleading do not constitute evidence or proof of the facts averred in the pleading. See Awojugbagbe Light Industries Ltd. v. Chinukwe (1995) 4 NWLR (Pt. 390) 379 SC.

Issues are said to be joined on the pleadings when an avermnent in opponent’s pleading has been denied or traversed. See Akaose & Ors. v. Nwosu & Ors. (1997) 1 NWLR (Pt. 482) 478.

Where also a party’s pleadings is not supported by evidence, those paragraphs of the pleadings will certainly be deemed to have been abandoned.

The law of pleadings does not require pleading a principle of the common law, but the law requires pleading of customary law because by our law of evidence, customary law is a fact which must be pleaded and proved.

Issues in a case are defined and circumscribed by the pleadings and a party is bound by his pleadings and is not allowed to set up a case different from his pleadings. A party must limit himself to the case set up by him in his pleadings.-EBBAH & ORS v. GALLOWAY & ANOR (2021) LPELR-55865(CA)

The law is trite that where a case is brought before a Court by pleadings and issues are joined on the pleadings filed by both parties, issues must be tried and settled on the pleadings.

Content of pleadings

It is not the law of pleadings that laws must be pleaded before a party can rely on them. While the law of pleadings requires that some specific laws should be pleaded (e.g. statutory defence like the Limitation Statute), it is not the province of the law of pleadings, that any law to be relied upon by a party must be pleaded. As a matter of law, pleadings essentially contain facts relied upon by the parties and they are stated positively, precisely, distinctly and briefly.

A good pleading should contain facts not law. There is a distinction between pleading law, which is not permitted by the law of pleadings and raising a point of law in a pleading, which is permitted by the law of pleadings. Pleading law obscures and conceals the facts of the case while raising a point of law defines or isolates an issue or question of law on the facts as pleaded.

Proper mode of denial in pleadings

One of the essential rules of pleading is that the defendant’s pleading shall deny all material averments in the statement of claim as the defendant intends to deny at the hearing. Every allegation of fact which is not specifically denied or stated not to be admitted shall be taken as established at the hearing.

Whether parties are bound by their pleadings; effect of facts not pleaded

It is elementary law that parties are bound by their pleadings and facts not pleaded go to no issue. This principle of law is to ensure that the adverse party does not spring any surprise at the trial by giving evidence on what was not pleaded.-AREMU v. ADETORO (2007) LPELR-546(SC).

The Court has held in Lawal v. G.B. Ollivant 1972 3 SC 124 that reference in a document pleaded to another document not pleaded does not render the latter a document pleaded.

Whether an illegal contract or agreement must be pleaded

The law is that a contract or an agreement rooted in illegality must not be pleaded and if pleaded, it cannot be enforced by any Court of law. See ONYIUKE V. OKEKE (1976) 10 N.S.C.C. 146.

Effect of a pleaded document in Civil Suit in Nigeria

A document is pleaded in order that it may be used to support facts relied on by the pleader. The existence of such document is thereby pleaded as a fact. The contents thereof are facts and are pleaded as such. The document will then at the appropriate time in the proceedings be tendered as the evidence in proof of those facts.

Amendment of Pleadings in Civil Suit in Nigeria

An amendment is simply the correction of an error committed in any process, pleadings or proceedings at law or in equity. An amendment can be made either as a matter of course or by consent of the parties or upon notice to the Court in which the proceeding is pending.-JOSEPH v. P.D.P & ORS (2020) LPELR-51193(CA)

Effect of amendment of pleadings

Any amendment of the pleadings in a case made or ordered at any stage of the proceedings before judgment or even made in an appeal, dates back to the date when the pleadings were originally filed. This means that once pleadings are amended, what stood before the amendment is no longer material before the Court and no longer defines the issues to be tried. See ARCHBISHOP PETER YARIYOK JATAU V. ALHAJI MANSUR AHMED & ORS (2003) 1 SC (Pt. 11) 118.

Whether a pleading amended with leave of Court would cease to exist

The Courts have stated repeatedly that a statement of claim or defence which has been amended with leave of Court does not disappear into thin air and cease to exist and it is still part of the proceedings and can be properly looked at or referred to by the trial Court. See Salami Vs Oke (1987) 4 NWLR (Pt 63) 11.

Once pleadings are duly amended by an order of Court, what stood before the amendment is no longer material before the Court and no longer defines the issue to be tried before the Court, that however is as far as that proposition of the law goes. It does not lay down any principle that an original pleading which has been amended by the order of Court automatically ceases to exist for all purposes and must be deemed to have been expunged or struck out from the proceedings.

Because a pleading has been amended does not mean that it is expunged or struck out and the Court can rightly refer to it though it cannot consider it as the basis of the claim or defence in the action. Thus, pleading amended does not cease to be part of the record.” The original pleadings will only cease to exist where it is withdrawn and is accordingly struck out – Yahaya Vs Chukwura (2002) 3 NWLR (Pt 753) 20.

 

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