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Court Of Appeal Holds That Industrial Court Can Depart From The Strict Rules Of Evidence Act, 2011 In Certain Circumstances

A Court of Appeal sitting in Illorin on Thursday, 14th April, 2022 in Suit no. CA/IL/20/2021 upheld the provision of Section 12(2) of the National Industrial Court Act 2006 which permits the court to deviate from provisions of the Evidence Act in the interest of justice.

The judgement which was delivered in the case between MR VICTOR ADEGBOYU v UNITED BANK FOR AFRICA was delivered by Honourable Justice KENNETH IKECHUKWU AMADI, JCA.

The case which was an appeal from a decision of the National Industrial Court in NICN/IL/01/2019 wherein the court dismissed the Appellants claims of wrongful termination by the respondent was filed on the 23rd of October 2020 on Six Grounds, which includeL

GROUND ONE: The learned trial Court erred in law in holding that Exhibit’ VG5 is an unsigned document thus, worthless, inadmissible in law and commands no judicial nor evidential value, GROUND TWO: The learned trial Court erred in law in holding that Exhibit VG14 is a computer generated document and it is inadmissible in evidence having failed to comply with the provision of S.84 of the Evidence Act.

GROUND THREE: The learned trial court misdirected itself on the facts of the Appellant’s case when it held that the failure of the Appellant to tender his letter of appointment in evidence is fatal to his case and amounted to failure to prove his case.

In determining the appeal, two issues for determination were considered by the court:

1) Whether the trial Court was not wrong in dismissing the Appellant’s case on the ground of not tendering his letter of appointment in evidence. (Grounds: 3, 4, 5 and 6)

2) Whether the trial Court was not wrong in rejecting and refusing to rely on exhibit VG5 AND VG14 in determining the Appellant’s case. (Grounds: 1 and 2)

After entertaining arguments from both Counsel, the Court on issue held that it is not in all cases that failure to plead and tender the letter of employment that will be fatal to the case of the claimant in a case of wrongful termination of employment, where the terms of the contract of employment is not in issue as in this case and where there is otherwise ample evidence to establish the terms of the contract of employment, failure to tender the letter of appointment will not necessarily be fatal to the plaintiff’s case. According to the appellate court, the learned trial judge went off tangent, stating that the case of the appellant was clearly misunderstood and misinterpreted. As the Appellant did not complain against breach of the terms of his contract of employment, his complaint were basically denial of “fair hearing” and failure to “follow the due process of law”.

On the second issue, the Court held that there was an exception to the general rule that an unsigned document had no evidential value, and it is when the authenticity and origination of the document is not in question. In applying this reasoning to the instant case, the Court of Appeal held that the fact that both parties front loaded and sought to rely on the unsigned document, there was an implication that they both agreed that the document existed and was authentic. In buttressing this point, the learned justice held that by the provisions of the National Industrial Court Act 2011 and the provisions of the Evidence Act 2006, the NCIN can depart from Section 84 of the Evidence Act 2011 which provides for stringent rules when it comes to document generated from the computer, and admit such document when both parties validate the existence and origin of the document.

According to the Court: “The National Industrial Court is a specialized Court established to handle labour and employment related matters for two specific reasons. The first reason is to ensure that such matters are determined expeditiously and without delay as opposed to trial in the ordinary courts. This reason is very crucial considering the fact that labour rights are primarily rights in personam as against rights in rem, in which case, time is of essence in determining such rights. Globally, the resolution of labour disputes is guided, among others, by this principle that: it is better to have a bad decision quickly than a good decision too later.”

The Court further validated Section 12(2) of the National Industrial Court Act, 2006 which allows it to depart from strict rules of evidence.  It held: “In view of the foregoing, I hold that section 12(2) of the National Industrial Act 2006 ought to apply to this case and it is hereby applied, The lower Court ought to have departed from the provisions of section 84 of the Evidence Act 2011 which is hereby departed from. Consequently, the order of the lower court discountenancing and expunging the said exhibit VG14 is hereby set aside, the said exhibit VG14 is to be given its probative value. This issue is consequently resolved in favour of the Appellant and against the Respondent”

On this grounds, the Court upheld the appeal and set aside the dismissal of the appellant.

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