As a young child, were you ever caught by your Dad with a hot piece of meat? Like, caught ‘red-handed’. Right before you could toss the attractive piece of meat into your mouth and say nothing happened?
Or maybe Dad never caught or saw you but little Sis always did and threatened to tell Dad what she caught you doing. Now, did it happen that Daddy never allowed you to explain what you were really doing since little sis “caught” you red-handed and He often began to flog the living heaven into you?
But wait a minute, it could have been that you had a proper explanation for why you were caught in the ‘compromising situation’
- For instance, WHAT IF you were only returning the meat to the pot, and not removing that meat found in your hand?
- WHAT IF big brother had forgotten to give you meat and asked you to go and remove a piece of meat from the pot?
When Little Sis told on you, Daddy may not have had the patience to listen to your proper explanation before handing down the cane treatment (a.k.a flogging). Unlike Dad, the law actually considers things differently. So, the law places a duty on a Judge to exercise patience enough to listen to that explanation of yours. In fact, the law gives you a right to make your explanation. This is where your right to fair hearing comes in!
So for the records, remember that even with a lump of stolen meat in hand, the law gives you a right to a fair hearing. We will explain how it all fits in.
What Does the Right to Fair Hearing Basically Mean?
The right to Fair hearing is a Constitutional right granted to everyone who goes before or is brought before a court or an administrative tribunal. Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria contains the relevant provisions for the right to fair hearing.
The Two Pillars of the Right to Fair Hearing
The right to fair hearing has two major ambits, parts or pillars.
The first pillar of the right is that ‘both parties must be heard’. In Latin we say it this way; ‘Audi Alteram partem’ which means – hear the other side.
Usually, there are two sides to every case or dispute. These sides are what we have just called ‘parties’. Therefore in our illustration, Little Sis (the accuser) is a party and you (the accused pot opener) are ‘another’ party while Dad is certainly the Judge.
This pillar of your right to fair hearing implies that you as well as your opponent or accuser should be given equal opportunity to present your respective cases. Also, each party is entitled to know what are the allegations being made against him or her and be allowed to be heard before a verdict (or judgment) is given. A Judge is therefore at all times expected to allow both parties to present their cases and should listen to the case of each party.
Applying this to our illustration, it simply means that Dad is to allow you and little sis to explain what happened before he decides to punish or applaud you.
A Justice of the Supreme Court once explained it this way; “It is the duty of anyone in control of proceedings to allow both parties to be heard and should listen to the point of view of each. Even God saw Adam eat the forbidden fruit which he warned him never to eat but the Lord still gave Adam a fair hearing when the Lord asked “Did you eat the fruit I told you not to eat”? See Genesis 3:11. It was after Adam was unable to give a satisfactory answer that punishment followed. That was the beginning of fair hearing.”; JUDICIAL SERVICE COMMISSION OF CROSS RIVER STATE & ANOR. v. YOUNG (2013) LPELR-20592(SC)
Let us emphasize also here that as a part of the right to fair hearing, when anyone is accused of committing a crime and charged to court, by Section 36(5) of the 1999 Nigerian constitution that person is presumed to be innocent until his or her guilt is proven. This is why even persons accused of the most heinous crimes are allowed to defend themselves in court either by themselves or through a lawyer of their choice.
Got the picture right?
The second pillar of the right to fair hearing is “a person should not be a judge in his own cause”. There is a Latin phrase for this too – ‘Nemo Judex in causa sua’. This pillar really implies that no judge should preside over a matter in which he has a personal interest or involvement. Every judge is to be an independent umpire or referee called upon to settle the dispute without bias or even the likelihood of bias. Anyone can only imagine or expect that if the judge was even ‘remotely’ interested in the result of the dispute or case, he would not be fair in his judgment.
In summary, both pillars of the right to fair hearing are mainly to the effect that; no person shall be a judge in his own cause and that both sides to a dispute have an equal opportunity to present their case.
A Short Graphical Illustration of the Right to Fair Hearing
The graphical illustration in this article is meant strictly for explanation purposes. Kindly swipe to view them.
How Does Your Right to Fair Hearing Play out in Court?
- You must be informed of the case against you and given adequate opportunity to prepare for your defense;
- All important materials of evidence, including documentary and ‘real’ evidence unfavorable to you (and which your accuser intends to use) are to be given to you to enable you to prepare your defense;
- You’re to be present during the Proceedings and hear the evidence against you. There are actually instances where the proceedings may continue if you knowingly and persistently absent yourself from Court.
- You are to be allowed to cross-examine all the witnesses that testify against you. Cross-examination simply means asking the witnesses some questions in other to challenge their evidence. Where you are represented by a lawyer, he or she would carry out the cross-examination;
- You are allowed to give evidence for yourself, call witnesses, if you choose to, and make oral submissions, whether personally or through a lawyer of your choice.
If you do not have the necessary financial resources to get the services of a lawyer, there are organizations that offer free legal services. You could find out about them and get their contact details here.
So now you know about your right to fair hearing.
Aniekan Imeh LLB.
The information above is only provided for general information purposes and does not amount to legal advice or soliciting. Also, No Lawyer-client relationship has been created and neither can such a relationship be implied. This information is not intended to substitute the services of a lawyer, if you need legal advice, kindly consult a lawyer for your specific needs. For any further information, you could send us a mail via [email protected]