Jurisdiction of Courts in Civil Cases in Nigeria – Max & Well Solicitors

Jurisdiction of Court in Civil Cases in Nigeria


Jurisdiction of Court is one of the fundamental challenges that students encounter in law school. For practicing lawyers, the challenge also comes up. This is why it is very important to understand the concept of jurisdictions very well. This will help you know the courts that will assume jurisdiction in any given scenario.  The purpose of this article is to help you understand the Jurisdiction of courts in Civil Cases in Nigeria.

What is Jurisdiction

For law students and practicing lawyers, no one will likely ask you for the definition of jurisdiction. However, for emphasis, we shall define jurisdiction.

In the locus classicus of Madukolu v. Nkemdilim, the Court defined Jurisdiction as the power of a Court to decide or sit over a matter. This means that it is jurisdictions that confer a Court the authority to hear and determine a matter.

Why is it important to know Court with Jurisdiction?

For the benefit of law students, let me quickly state the importance of knowing the various courts with civil jurisdiction:

  1. In the exam you may be asked to identify the court you will institute an action according to the facts in the scenario.
  2. An action may be instituted in the wrong court and you will be asked to comment on the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit.
  3. You may be asked to draft something which may require the heading of court.
    So, we shall try to help you to understand the various types of jurisdiction and the factors that will determine the courts with jurisdiction in any given case.

Types of Jurisdiction – Jurisdiction of Courts in Civil Cases in Nigeria

Jurisdiction of Courts in Civil Cases in Nigeria

Briefly in this section, we shall discuss the various types of jurisdictions. This section will help you to appreciate jurisdiction better. Kindly pay rapt attention.

A. Substantive Jurisdiction:

This is the jurisdiction imposed on the court by the law establishing the court or any other statute; e.g. Section 232 and 251 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which conferred exclusive jurisdiction on the Supreme Court and the Federal High Court respectively, over certain issues.

B. Procedural Jurisdiction

This jurisdiction is based on the rule and practice of the court. A good example is the issue of giving pre-action notices before instituting an action against some government agencies. So where the Rules of court or law require that certain procedures be followed before a court can assume jurisdiction over a matter (e.g. where leave of court is required to institute an action), such requirement or procedure must be observed; failure of which the court shall lack jurisdiction.

However, failure to observe such procedural jurisdiction may be waived if a defendant fails to raise an objection timeously in the suit. See Mobil v LASEPA

C. Territorial Jurisdiction:

This is jurisdiction based on the location or where the cause of action arose or where the parties are. For instance, where a contract is entered into in Lagos and executed in Lagos if the defendant resides in Lagos, the action ought to be instituted in Lagos and not anywhere else.

NOTE: The position of the law is that where the court lacks jurisdiction to hear a matter, the trial no matter how well conducted will be a nullity and will be set aside on appeal. See the case of Anih v. Nna

See Also:

What are the Factors that will Determine the Jurisdiction of a Court

To be able to determine the right court with jurisdictions, there are certain factors to consider, and in this article, we shall consider those factors.

A. Nature and Subject Matter of Dispute

This depends on what led to the dispute; for example, if it is a breach of contract, then the high court that will have jurisdiction is determined by where the contract is to be performed or where the defendant resides. See Order 4 Rules 1(3), Lagos Rules 2019, and Order 3 Rules 3 of the 2018 Rules.

If it is land matters; then the high court in the place where the land is situated will assume jurisdiction. See generally Order 4 Rule 1(1) Lagos Rules 2019 and Order 3 Rule 1 Abuja Rules 2018.

However, if it involves issues of aviation; shipping, or maritime, the Federal High Court will assume jurisdiction. See section 251 of the 1999 Constitution.

B. Parties

The parties to the dispute will also determine the court, for instance, where it involves the Federal Government or its agency in relation to its statutory functions and administration or disputes between two Banks in relation to Banking policies, the Federal High Court will have jurisdiction. See section 251 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.

This is important because the proper parties must be before the court and they must be juristic persons for the court to assume jurisdiction. See Green v. Green.

C. Mode of commencement of an action

Some actions must be instituted using a specific mode for instance election matters and matrimonial causes must be by PETITION. See section 133 Electoral Act. If it is instituted by any other mode, it will not be entertained by the court. This can also come under procedural jurisdiction.

D. Geographical area

This is determined by the cause of action for example matters of interest in land is to be instituted where the land is situate.

E. Pre-action requirements

The presence of any legal requirements or condition precedents which must be observed before a matter is brought before a court is also a factor that determines jurisdictions. (for example, actions requiring pre-action notice or leave of court before it can be instituted).

F. Constitutional provisions:

It is the constitution that creates most of the courts/tribunals, therefore the constitution also provides for matters for which such courts will assume jurisdiction.

Conclusion on Understanding the Jurisdiction of Courts in Civil Cases in Nigeria

We hope this article has helped you to understand the factors that determines the court with jurisdictions in Nigeria. For questions and contributions, kindly use the comment section below to reach us. Thanks

See Also: Case Scenario on Affidavit Evidence – Position of the Law

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