There are different types of courts in Nigeria. Each of them has its own functions. So, what are the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria? Let's find this out together.
Actually, courts in Nigeria are renowned and recognized as the hallowed chambers of jurisdiction, where candid justice is meted out to all and sundry, without favoritism, sentiment, emotion, or being unnecessarily involved in crass legalism. What is more, we do not only have courts of law but courts of equity as well.
The Nigerian Constitution divides the government’s structure into three branches – the legislative, executive, and judiciary. According to the Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution, judicial powers are vested in the courts.
Courts are authorized by law to exercise jurisdiction at first instance, and on appeals in all proceedings and actions relating to matters between people, or between government/authority and any person in Nigeria. It is also aimed at defining any question as to the civil rights and duties of that person.
Types of courts in Nigeria
Find out the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria below.
1. The Supreme Court of Nigeria
The first one is the Supreme Court of Nigeria which is the Nigerian highest Court. It was established in 1963 subsequent to the enunciation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the 1960 Constitution, which became effective on October 1, 1963. It also succeeded the cancellation of Section 120, which repealed the appellate jurisdiction of the Privy Council judicial committee, which was the Nigeria’s Apex Court.
The Court is provided for in Section 230 of the 1999 Constitution. According to this provision, the court will consist of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and 21 (twenty-one) judges at all times. Actually, the court’s decision on any matter is binding and final without any form of a retrial.
Of course, this does not include the powers of the Governor or the President of the country as they can grant a reprieve to any person condemned of an offense under any law in Nigeria. Furthermore, the decision of the Supreme Court may be canceled by legislation and the Supreme Court can even nullify itself.
The Supreme Court is presently located in Abuja, Nigeria. Its jurisdiction is the highest and most important in the country. This consequently means that no appeal can be heard regarding matters decided by the supreme court before any other Nigerian court.
In general, these matters include any controversy between the Federation and the State or between States. As far as that controversy involves any matter (whether of fact or law) on which an existence of a legal right is called into question. Basically, the Supreme Court does not have the original jurisdiction on just any criminal matter. In addition, it has the jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in Nigeria to determine and hear any proclamation from the Court of Appeal.
2. The Court of Appeal
The next one on the hierarchy of Nigerian courts is the Court of Appeal. Compared to the Supreme Court, which is located only in Abuja, the Court of Appeal is separated into various judicial divisions and sits in definite States in Nigeria. It was established by Section 237 of the 1999 Constitution, led by the President of the Court of Appeal, and comprises of 49 (forty-nine) judges at all times.
The Court of Appeal has the original jurisdiction to the exception of all other courts in Nigeria to determine and hear any question as to whether any person has been validly voted to the office of the Governor or Deputy Governor, the President or Vice-President in Nigeria. It appeals from the High Court of a State, the Federal High Court, the Customary Court of Appeal of a State, Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the Court Martial, Sharia Court of Appeal of a State, and any other Tribunal.
Like the completeness of Supreme Court decisions, the Court of Appeal also possesses the completeness of decisions on appeals coming from the resolutions of the State and National Houses of Assembly election petitions and also, on the appeal coming from any civil jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court.
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3. The Federal High Court
Just like the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court is divided into various judicial divisions for administrative convenience and sits in more than 15 States in Nigeria. Section 249 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the existence of the Federal High Court.
The Federal High Court is headed by the Chief Judge and contains the number of Judges allowed may be preassigned by an Act of the National Assembly. But we should point out, that it can be properly constituted if it contains at least one Judge of the Court. This Court has original jurisdiction in civil cases, and matters as set out under Section 251 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.
It should be mentioned that the Federal High Court also has the appellate jurisdiction and all the powers of the High Courts of a State. This court divides the concurrent jurisdiction of the State High Court in matters regarding the interpretation or application of the constitution, banker-customer relationship, and fundamental human rights enforcement cases.
4. The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) / State High Court
The Section 255 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the ascertainment of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. While Section 270 provides for the ascertainment of a High Court for each State of the Federation.
So, the State High Court and the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory particularly are headed by the Chief Judge. The number of Judges they contain is prescribed by the State House of Assembly (in respect of the High Court of a State) or an Act of National Assembly (in respect of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja). The High Court has the largest jurisdiction under the 1999 Constitution in civil and criminal cases and has the appellant jurisdiction over decisions of Customary Courts, Area Courts, Magistrate Courts, etc.
5. The National Industrial Court
As for the National Industrial Court, it is established by Section 254A of the 1999 Constitution. It is headed by the President of the National Industrial Court and the number of Judges depend on what is prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.
Just like the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court is also divided into various judicial separations for administrative convenience which sits in some States in Nigeria. The National Industrial Court focuses on the jurisdiction in civil cases and grounds that are set out in Section 254C of the 1999 Constitution. It has all the powers of the High Court of a State and the appellate jurisdiction.
6. The Sharia Court of Appeal
The Section 260 of the 1999 Constitution provides for an obligatory establishment of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. While Section 275 provides for a dispensable establishment of a Sharia Court of Appeal for any State that claims it is in Nigeria.
Actually, both courts are headed by a Grand Kadi and contain a number of Kadis that is prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly for Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and the House of Assembly of a State for a State Sharia Court of Appeal. Also, both courts exercise the supervisory and appellate jurisdiction in civil cases involving issues of the Islamic personal law.
7. The Customary Court of Appeal
The Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory was established by the Section 265 of the 1999 Constitution and caters to the FCT. While Section 280 provides for the dispensable establishment of the Customary Court of Appeal for any State that claims it in Nigeria.
In general, both courts are led by the President of the Customary Court of Appeal and contain Judges as prescribed by the National Assembly for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and the House of Assembly for any State that claims it. In addition, both courts exercise the supervisory and appellate jurisdiction in civil cases involving issues of the customary law.
8. Magistrate Courts and District Courts
While not provided for in the 1999 Constitution, Magistrate Courts and District Courts are established by the law of the House of Assembly of a State. As for the Magistrate Court, it is a court of summary judgment as grounds are defined in this court without briefs or pleadings filed by the parties.
Actually, in the Southern part of Nigeria, they are referred to as Magistrate Courts, but in the Northern part of Nigeria, they are referred to as District Courts when they sit in their civil jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of a Magistrate Courts is provided for under the different rules of each State establishing them.
So, as you can see, there are different courts in Nigeria. Each of them is established by the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), and are authorized by the law to exercise jurisdiction at first instance. All the courts are differentiated by its position in the hierarchical pyramid of courts. Now you know the differences between all of them.
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