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HAUSA AND ANOTHER v. DAWUDA


  • appeal
  • 1961-09-27
  • HIGH COURT
  • GLR 550-553
  • Print

OLLENNU, J.


Summary

Local courts?-Jurisdiction in land cases?-Defendant objects to jurisdiction after the close of plaintiff?'s case?-Courts Act, 1960 (C.A. 9) s. 98 (2).Practice?-Inspection of the locus in quo?-Propriety of the court calling person seen at inspection.

Headnotes

The plaintiff sued in the Accra West Local Court for rents and mesne profits. The co-plaintiff was joined because, it was alleged, he is the representative of the Korle-We people who granted the land on which the building stands. At the close of the plaintiff's case, the defendant objected to the jurisdiction of the court on the ground that the house is worth more than G800 and that he did not consent to the case being tried in that court. He referred to section 98 (2) of the Courts Act, 1960 (C.A.9). The local court magistrate overruled the objection and called upon the defendant for his defence. The magistrate later inspected the premises. In the course of the inspection he met the adjoining landowner. After questioning her as to the ownership of the house in dispute, he invited her to give evidence in court. Basing his judgment in main on this new evidence, the magistrate gave judgment for the plaintiff. The defendant appealed.

Judgement

APPEAL from a decision of the Accra West Local Court in a claim for rents.

This case commenced in the Accra West Local Court by writ of summons issued on the 3rd October, 1960. The claim is for statement of accounts of rents and mesne profits realised from house No. L.764/26, covering a period of eighteen months ending in August, 1960. The co-plaintiff was joined upon an allegation that he is "the representative of the Korle-We people who granted the land on which the building in issue is situate".

At its best, the evidence led on behalf of the plaintiffs in support of the claim was most indifferent; but as the determination of this appeal turns upon the question of jurisdiction, it is better not to make any further observations on the merits of the case.

When the case for the plaintiffs closed, the defendant filed submissions alleging, among other things, that the land with the buildings thereon, subject-matter of the suit, was valued at about G800, and therefore he was objecting to the jurisdiction of the local court to hear the case. The plaintiff filed a twelve-paragraph reply to those submissions, but all she said in her reply to the submission as to the value of G800 is that she had contributed substantially to the cost of erection of some of the buildings on the land. The impression she left is that she did not dispute the said valuation. The local court magistrate overruled the objection to his jurisdiction in the following terms:

"I am unable to understand the reasonableness, potentiality or otherwise of these submissions by the defendant; defendant failed to cross-examine plaintiff or plaintiff's witness and never gave reasons. Submissions by the defendant unacceptable. Evidence by plaintiff?'s witnesses stand legally accepted by the court."

The defendant then led evidence and produced plans, building permit and other documents relating to the land and the buildings thereon. It is common ground that the buildings on the land consist of seventeen rooms; one block of the buildings which contains five rooms, appear upon the evidence to have been built of cement concrete blocks.

At the conclusion of the case of the parties, the local court magistrate inspected the land, and thereafter gave judgment in favour of the plaintiff.

The first ground of appeal argued in this court is that the local court had no jurisdiction in the suit since the subject-matter was worth more than G200, and the defendant objected to the court hearing the case.

The local court is a court of limited jurisdiction. Its jurisdiction in land causes is limited. Section 98 (2) of the Courts Act, 1960,1 provides that:

"(2) where it appears that the subject-matter of a land cause exceeds G200 the Court shall not exercise jurisdiction except with the consent of the parties" [p.552]

In this case the defendant did not consent to the local court exercising jurisdiction in the matter.

An inferior court is presumed to have no jurisdiction until the contrary is shown; on the other hand, a superior court is presumed to be vested with jurisdiction in all matters until the contrary is shown. In the case of an inferior court, the onus lies upon the party which alleges jurisdiction in it to show that it is vested with competent jurisdiction. Since by section 98 (2) a local court has limited jurisdiction in land causes, the onus is upon every plaintiff who institutes a land cause in the local court to prove that the value of the land does not exceed G200 and therefore the court is vested with the necessary jurisdiction. That being the case the moment a defendant objects to the jurisdiction of a local court in a land cause on grounds of value, the proceedings must stop, unless the plaintiff establishes jurisdiction in the court.

The local court magistrate therefore erred when he overruled the submissions of the defendant on the question of his jurisdiction and proceeded to exercise jurisdiction in spite of the objection and the failure of the plaintiff to show that the court is vested with jurisdiction; and that is all the more so in view of the implied admission by the plaintiff that the subject-matter of the suit is valued over G200.

One more observation should be made. When the local court inspected the land in dispute, the local court magistrate, of his own motion, called a person he alleged he saw in occupation of the land adjoining the one in dispute, and questioned her about ownership of the land, and in view of what she said, he, upon his own motion invited her to the court to give evidence in support of the plaintiff's case. There is no provision in the Local Courts (Procedure) Regulations, 19592, which authorises a local court to take such a step. It is not for a court to go out of its way to look for witnesses for one party or the other as the local court magistrate did in this case. If the said witness whom the local court magistrate styled "an expert witness" is the owner in occupation of land which forms boundary with the land in dispute and is seized of facts which would prove the ownership of the land in dispute, it is the parties who must know this, not the magistrate. As the evidence of this witness turned out to be, it contradicted the plaintiff whom she was called to support, and his principal witness P.W. 2, in a very material particular. And yet the magistrate accepted that evidence as proving the case of the plaintiff.

It would have been different if one point or so in the case was doubtful, and the local court needed an independent witness in court whose evidence could help to clear that doubt. But even in such a case it is not for the court to go about questioning people to get a witness. In case of doubt the law is that the party who asserts must lose: Wakelin v. L. S.W. Rly. Co.,3 Kodilinye v. Odu4 and Nchirahene Kojo Ado v. Buoyemhene Kwadwo Wusu.5 It is not for the court to go and look for an independent witness to resolve the doubt. [p.553]

The local court having acted without jurisdiction the proceedings before it and the judgment are a nullity. The appeal is allowed, the judgment of the local court is declared null and void as being without jurisdiction.

The appellant will have his costs in this court fixed at 15 guineas inclusive and his costs in the local court fixed at G10.

Decision

<P>Appeal allowed.</P>

Plaintiff / Appellant

Joe Reindorf

Defendant / Respondent

E. Obetsebi-Lamptey

Referals

(1)  Wakelin v. London and South-Western Rly. Co. (1886) 12 App. Cas. 41; 56 L.J. Q.B. (N.S.) 229

(2)  Kodilinye v. Odu (1935) 2 W.A.C.A. 336

(3)  Nchirahene Kojo Ado v. Buoyemhene Kwadwo Wusu (1938) 4 W.A.C.A. 96.

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