SUMMARY OF THE JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY THE COURT OF APPEAL ON MONDAY 14TH DECEMBER, 2020 IN APPEAL NO. CA/L/635M/2010 – WEST GERMAN INVESTMENT LIMITED V SURESH CHELLARAMS & 4 OTHERS
The facts of the case are that the Respondents being directors and shareholders of a company called Greville Investment Limited were the guarantors of the loan agreement between their company and the Appellant. The Respondents failed to repay the loan and the creditors instituted a suit against them before the Supreme Court of Gibraltar, the Court that the parties agreed to submit any dispute arising from the loan transaction for resolution. The Respondents who were all resident and carrying on business in Nigeria were served with the processes of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar through the Lagos State High Court Civil Procedure Rules, by a bailiff of the court. They failed to file a notice of intention to defend the suit before the foreign court resulting in the Court entering judgment against them on the 8th February 1999.
The Respondents were informed by the Appellant of the judgment against them through a letter dated 10th March 1999 by which the Appellant requested them to propose terms of payment of the judgment debt. In response, the Respondents/judgment debtors proposed to pay the Appellant 227, 500 UK Pounds and another sum of 100, 000 UK pounds to be spread over 4 years of 10, 000 pounds per month. The Appellant did not agree to the proposal of payment and filed the application seeking leave to register the judgment of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar as a foreign judgment for the purpose of enforcement in Nigeria. The application was predicated on the Rules of the lower Court. The Respondents opposed the application in terms of their counter affidavit and written address. They contended that the judgment was invalid because the judgment debtors/respondents were not served with the court’s processes under the applicable law in Nigeria. They asserted that the purported service of the processes to them in Nigeria through the Rules of procedure of the lower court, being the High Court of Lagos State was invalid because service and execution of the foreign court’s processes in Nigeria was a matter within item 54 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1979 Constitution, the law that was applicable as at 1998 the date of the service of the foreign processes on the Respondents. They argued that the purported service of the foreign court’s processes on them through the Attorney General of Lagos State, pursuant to the then applicable Lagos State High Court Civil Procedure Rules 1972 was invalid. That by virtue of the provisions of Section 4(3) of the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria, only the National Assembly or the Federal Administration can deal with the service and execution of foreign courts’ processes in Nigeria. The lower Court considered the affidavits of the parties and the argument of counsel on both sides and delivered the vexed ruling, agreeing with the Respondents’ argument and dismissed the application.
The Appellant was aggrieved with the ruling and challenged it by its notice of appeal filed on the 0th February 2012.
In a unanimous Judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal, Lagos Judicial Division, the Honourable Justice Balkisue Bello Aliyu (writing the lead Judgment and their Lordships, Honourable Justices Joseph Shagbaor Ikyegh and Ebiowei Tobi (concurring); the Court of Appeal held that once the registering Court finds that a party agrees to submit to the jurisdiction of the foreign court, as in this case, it is sufficient ground to register the judgment. The lower Court therefore ought to have registered the judgment of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar for enforcement in Nigeria in the circumstances of this case. Consequently, the Court of Appeal set aside the decision of the Honourable Justice A.O. Ipaye delivered on 20th February, 2006 and in its place granted leave to the Appellant to register and enforce the Judgment of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar dated 8th February, 1999.
Consequently, I invoke the powers conferred on me by the provisions of Section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act, CAP. C.36 LFN 2004 and hereby order that the judgment of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar dated 8th February 1999 against the Respondents be registered in the lower Court and enforced against the Respondents. Cost of #200, 000 (Two hundred thousand Naira only) awarded to the Appellant against the Respondents.
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