Conditions For Admissibility Of Public Documents

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918) 286; and Odu’a Investment Co. Ltd. v. Talabi (1997) 7 SCNJ page 600′, (1997) 10 NWLR (Pt. 523) 1. The learned counsel for the respondent submitted that contrary to the submission of the appellants’ counsel the interpretation employed by the court below, best suit the interpretation of section 111 (1) of the Evidence Act, as the wording of the section is crystal clear, plain and precise. He further submitted that if a law demands or require the fulfillment of a condition for the validity of an act, the condition becomes a condition precedent and failure to comply with the condition makes the act a nullity. He cited the cases of Aina v. linadu (1992) 4 NWLR (Pt. 233) page 91; Federal Government oj Nigeria v. Zebra Energy Ltd. (2003) FWLR page 154, (2002) 18 NWLR (Pt. 798) 162. The learned counsel further emphasised that the totality of the five conditions stipulated by section 111(1) of the Evidence Act must be fulfilled before any document purporting to be certified true copy could be admissible in evidence as found by the lower court.

I will at this juncture look at the proceedings of the trial court on the day the exhibits that are the subject in controversy were admitted in evidence. When certified true copies of the statements of the staff of the defendant/respondent, Miss Samira Bako and Mr. Haruna Musa to the police were sought to be tendered in evidence, the learned counsel for the defendant objected to their admissibility inter alia thus:

“The evidence seeking to tender this document are inadmissible, the statements being public documents were not properly certified in accordance with section 97 (2)(a), 109, 111 of the Evidence Act. There is nothing in this document to show that it is certified true copy or that payment was made. Okechukwu Ajunwa …

On the issue of the certification in accordance with section 111 of the Evidence Act. Alatasha v. Asin (1999) 5 NWLR (Pt. 601) page 32 at page 43 and 44. Payment is not a condition precedent for admission of a certified true copy of a public document. There is certified as a true copy written at the back of one document.

Replying on point of law, Ademola Adeniji – Section 111 of the Evidence Act not having any provision (sic) should be strictly complied with, its require (sic) payment as a matter of law and there must be evidence of payment sought (sic) be tendered as certified true copy, there is no such evidence on this document, it disqualified the document because of failure of payment. It is not just mere irregularity it is an incurable irregularity.

Section 111 of the Evidence Act required the officer who certified the document or true copy to state his rank and his title, we rest our argument for the non- payment of fee for the certified true copy.”

At the end of the day, the learned trial judge admitted the statements in evidence. Now, what is the provision of this controversial section 111 (l) of the Evidence Act Cap. 112, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990? Section 111 (1) stipulates thus:

“Every public officer having the custody of a public document which any person has a right to inspect shall give that person on demand a copy of it on payment of the legal fees therefor together with a certificate written at the foot of such copy that it is a true copy of such document or part thereof, as the case may be, and such certificate shall be dated and subscribed by such officer with his name and his official title and shall be sealed, whenever such officer is authorised by law to make use of a seal, and such copies so certified shall be called certified copies.”

The above provision is very clear on what a person seeking public document should do and what the public officer who is releasing it should also do. Such acts expected of a person desirous of securing such document, like payment of fees are specified, and the official acts required by the official in whose custody the document is also specified. It is instructive to note that the word ‘shall’ has been consistently used in respect of each act and performance. The word ‘shall’ connotes mandatory discharge of a duty or obligation, and when the word is used in respect of a provision of the law that requirement must be met. The word’ shall’ may have other meanings, for when used in a legislation, it may be capable of translating into a mandatory act, giving permission or direction. See Nnonye v. Anyichie & ors (2005) 2 NWLR (Pt. 910) page 623.

The use of the word ‘shall conjures mandatoriness, the cor satisfied. It is settled law that a le interpretation and effect, most especially where the words used are straight forward and unambiguo. See Toriola v. Williams (1982) 7 SC. 27;  Sunmonu v. Oladokun (1996) 8 NWLR (Pt. 467) page 387, and Lawai v. G. B. Ollivani (1972) 3 SC 124.

In this vein, I subscribe to the holding of the lower court which is encapsulated thus:

“I think from whichever angle one looks at the provision of this section, one can hardly escape arriving at the only rule of interpretation of statutes which are clear and unambiguous that is golden rule of interpretation. This section to my mind is so clear and unambiguous that is golden rule of interpretation. This section to my mind is so clear and direct. The repeated use of the word ‘shall’ in the section in my view indicates mandatoriness.”

The learned justices did not err by the above holding. This issue which is covered by ground (1) of appeal is resolved in favour of the respondent, and the related ground of appeal fails and it is  dismissed.

I will now move to issue (2) supra. In proffering argument under this issue, the learned counsel for the appellant submitted that the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they rejected the certified true copies of the documents which the lower court found to be public document on the basis that there was no evidence of payment of legal fees as required by section 111 (1) of the Evidence Act. He submitted that even if payment of legal fee is mandatory for certification of  copies of public document, such payment would be paid by private and  or members of the public who may be applying for such certified true copies of the document, and not government department as in this case.

It is the submission of the Iearned counsel for the respondent  that had the legislature intended the police or anybody or agency to be exempted, it would have indicated so in the act. It was argued that the appellants have not shown the provision of law exempting the police from taking legal fee before certifying document in the police custody as certified true copy, and that it is the Evidence Act  and not the Police Act that regulate the admissibility of documents in proceedings, and since the provisions of section 111 (1) of the Evidence Act did not exempt the police, from paying the fees. The learned counsel submitted that the phrase ‘any person’ used in section 111 (1) of the Evidence Act is not reference to the police, the custodian of the document in this case, but to the litigant who require the document to be tendered in support of this case.

As I have said earlier, the provision of section 111(1) of the Evidence Act is clear and unambiguous, and so should be subjected to simple interpretation. The fact that it sets out conditions that must be satisfied before a public document is admitted in evidence, requires that such conditions much be met. The argument that the payment of legal fees required in section 111 (1) of the Evidence Act supra would be by private or members of the public who are applying for such certified true copies of the public document, and not payable by government department as in this case, holds no water. None of the appellants belongs to any govenrment department, so such concession cannot be arrogated to them. The tendering of the documents (exhibits A, B1, B2 and B3) was at the instance of the appellants, as litigants seeking reliefs in the learned trial court. They are neither government officials, government agencies nor government department, so they cannot be perceived as falling within any exemption, if at all there is any such. That is to say that the provision of section 111(1) of the Evidence Act has left no room for any exemption, for if the legislature intended or contemplated that there would be any such exemption it would have been specifically stated. In this respect, the court below was on firm ground when it observed and found as follows:

“It is clear that the section has not made any exemption  from the payment of legal fees by any person who requires to secure a certified true copy of any public  document in custody of a public officer including members of the police force. If there are exemptions, the section or any section related thereto should have  specifically provided for such exemptions.”

In the light of the above treatment of this issue, the answer to issue (2) supra is in the affirmative. The grounds of appeal to which the issue is married fail and they are hereby dismissed. The end result is that the appeal fails and it is hereby dismissed. This court however directs that the appellants should pay the required fees as provided in section 111 (1) of the Evidence Act, to meet and satisfy the said provision. It is in the interest of justice that this be done as quickly as possible so that the hearing continues immediately. This order is to meet the end of justice. I assess costs at N50,000.00 in favour of the respondent.

ONNOGHEN, J.S.C.: This appeal is an interlocutory one arising from the admission, during trial of a document which was objected to by learned Counsel for the defendant/respondent in this appeal.

Upon appeal to the Court of Appeal, the appeal was allowed on the ground that the admission of the documents in issue was contrary to the provisions of section 111 (l) of the Evidence Act,

Cap. 112, Laws of the Federation, 1990. The present appeal is against the decision of the Court of Appeal.

I have had the benefit of reading in draft the lead judgment of my learned brother Mukhtar, JSC just delivered and I agree with his reasoning and conclusion that the appeal is without merit and should be dismissed.

Section 111 (1) of the Evidence Act provides as follows:

“Every public officer having custody of a public document which any person has a right to inspect shall give that person on demand a copy of it on payment of the legal fees therefor, together with a certificate written at the foot of such copy that it is a true copy of such document…”