Case management strategy is key to the effective determination of disputes in litigation. An example of a case management strategy is the idea of harmonisation of legal issues for determination.

Issues for determination are questions posed by parties to a case through their respective counsel. It is one of the core components of any written address usually filed to present legal arguments and submissions of counsel in support of their cases.

In most rules of court, the filing of written addresses is required as a matter of procedure. The structure of a written address includes issue(s) for determination. This follows after the introduction and brief statement of facts. After a succinct issue(s) for determination is raised, counsel must proceed to argue the issue through supporting logical legal arguments.

As we observed, an issue for determination is often raised in the form of a question. Identifying the relevant issue(s) for determination is one of the ways counsel demonstrates mastery of the case at hand. Also, knowing the particular number of issues to raise and elegantly drafting it is vital. In the recent case of Saleh v. Abah [2017] 12 NWLR (Pt. 1578) 100 at 129, Bage, JSC observed “the seemingly superfluous and overlapping issues formulated by the parties in their briefs of argument” and held that “any sentence more than 3-4 lines is grammatically inelegant, and putting it straight, wrong.”

The courts have held that notwithstanding the issues raised by the parties, the court is at liberty to reformulate the issue(s) raised in the interest of justice. In Musa Sha (Jnr) v. Da Rap Kwan (2000) 5 SCNJ 101 at 127, it was held that “the purpose of framing or re-framing an issue or issues, it is stated: is to lead to a more judicious and proper determination of an appeal. The purpose of re-formulating it or them, is in order to narrow the issue or issues in controversy in the interest of accuracy, clarity and brevity.”

Harmonising issues

In complex litigations, proliferation of issues for determination is common and poses some challenge to judges. In a recent case, Suit No: NICN/YEN/48/2016: Joseph Johnson Osayande v. SPDC, the learned trial Judge, Ogbuanya, J. acknowledged this fact. The Judge adopted a novel case management strategy to deal with the situation. This is by way of harmonisation of suggested legal issues for determination. At the conclusion of trial, the learned trial Judge scheduled a proceeding where both counsel participated and encouraged the idea of harmonising the legal issues in contention. Both counsel agreed and cooperated with the process. Thereafter, the court directed that the Final Written Addresses to be filed and exchanged by both counsel should be strictly based on the suggested and harmonised legal issues underpinning the dispute. Both counsel complied.

The above case management approach is commended. It will go a long way in helping the parties and the court to effectively address the relevant issues for determination in the case for resolution by the court in the interest of justice.

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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