FAIR HEARING: AN INDISPENSABLE ELEMENT OF JUSTICE


FAIR HEARING: AN INDISPENSABLE ELEMENT OF JUSTICE

CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION

1.1. BACKGROUND OF STUDY
Fair hearing means that an individual will have an opportunity to present evidence to support his or her case and to discover what evidence exists against him or her. It is a fact that what law seeks to achieve is justice. Justice must be pursued in the light of the laid down rules and procedure for the attainment of the desired justice, which is the quest of every man. The court, tribunal or any legally constituted body should therefore guide and guard jealously strict compliance with the law in doing justice.

Fair Hearing is an age long principle which embraces the plenitude of the doctrine of natural justice in the sense of the twin pillars of justice, that is Audi alteram partem and nemo judex incausa sua. This principle is germane to the determination of any matter, dispute or conflict either before a court of law, tribunal or any other competent body.

Fair hearing can simply be said to be distilled from the principle of natural justice which encompasses audi alteram partem and nemo judex in causa Sua that is, a court is under a duty to hear or listen to both or all the parties and that no man should be a judge in his own cause.
Fair Hearing is so paramount that lack of it in the determination of any suit will result in injustice being done and render the proceeding a nullity. It is an elementary principle of law that justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done so that an ordinary and independent bystander who observed the proceeding or trial can emerge from the court and say that the trial has been fair to both parties. Therefore, parties to a case must be granted the opportunity to present their case devoid of any hindrance by the court or any of the parties to the suit, from the commencement of the suit to its logical conclusion. In Obeta v. Okpe the court of Appeal held that it is a basic principle of the law that where a person’s legal rights or obligations are called into question, he should be accorded full opportunity to be heard before any adverse decision is taken against him with regard to such rights and obligations. Put differently, it is an indispensable requirement of justice that an adjudicating authority shall hear both sides to a dispute, giving them ample opportunity to present their case.

The doctrine of fair hearing is much more than a common law doctrine in Nigeria. It is a constitutional right, which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, section 36 (1) thereof. A hearing by a court of law is said to be fair when it is conducted in accordance with all legal rules formulated to ensure that justice is done to the parties to a case. One can understand whether there is fairness in a trial or not by assessing the attitudinal behaviour demonstrated by the trial judge towards each of the parties to a given case. Thus, a hearing can only be fair when all the parties to the dispute are given a hearing or an opportunity of a hearing. If one of the parties is refused a hearing or not given an opportunity to be heard, the hearing cannot qualify as fair hearing. It is a natural expectation that any person should be treated fairly and should equally treat others fairly as well. The need for fair treatment or fair hearing becomes very necessary or pertinent when the issue for determination of the rights, duties or responsibilities of a person is in issue. It is on the basis of this that the doctrine has become a right constitutionally guaranteed on parties to any trial. By way of elaboration, however, we can posit that the right requires that each party to a case must be given a clear, reasonable and adequate opportunities to prepare and state his case in rebuttal . Since fair hearing is very important and indispensable in any proceeding involving the determination of the rights and obligations of the parties in a case, whether civil or criminal, it becomes pertinent for us to access how the court and tribunals have observed the doctrine of fair hearing as well as a waiver of same, and what has been the effect of non-compliance to the doctrine of fair hearing.

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