05 Mar Enforcement of Foreign Judgment Under Nigeria Laws
The growth of international trade and travel, together with the growing increase in commercial operations between Nigerians, foreign corporations and/or individuals have led to an awareness of certain legal problems including the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgements in Nigeria.
Although Nigeria is not part of any bilateral or multilateral convention on the recognition and enforcement of judgments, there are however two statues that govern the enforcement of foreign judgments in Nigeria. These Statues are:
- Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Ordinance Cap 175, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and Lagos, 1958 (“the 1958 Ordinance) (this Ordinance was enacted in 1922 as L.N. 8, 1922); and
- Foreign Judgment (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 (“the 1990 Act’) (enacted in 1961 as L.N. 56, 1961)’
Enforcement of Foreign Judgment Under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Ordinance
The Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Ordinance can be used to enforce judgments obtained from various territories and dominions under Her Majesty’s protection i.e. the Queen of England. The Statute was enacted during the colonial period and is still applicable till date.
It must be noted that The Ordinance only applies to judgment or order given or made by a court of civil proceedings relating to the payment of any sum. Consequently, where a money judgment has been obtained from any of the Territories under the protection of Her Majesty, the judgment Creditor may apply to a High Court at any time within twelve (12) months after the date of the judgment, or such longer period as may be allowed by the court, to have the judgment registered. However, Nigeria Courts have in a plethora of cases, made clear that any application for registration of a judgment in Nigeria obtained in a High Court in England must be registered within a period of twelve months from the date the judgment was made otherwise such an application would be held to be time barred and discountenanced.
The Ordinance however stipulates that an Application for the registration of a judgment obtained in a High Court of England will be refused on the following grounds:
- the original court acted without jurisdiction;
- the judgment debtor, being a person who was neither carrying on business nor ordinarily resident within the jurisdiction of the original court, did not voluntarily appear or otherwise submit or agree to submit to the jurisdiction of that court;
- the judgment debtor, being the defendant in the proceedings, was not duly served with the process of the original court, and did not appear, notwithstanding that he was ordinarily resident or was carrying on business within the jurisdiction of that court or agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of that court;
- the judgment was obtained by fraud;
- the judgment debtor satisfies the registering court either that an appeal is pending, or that he is entitled and intends to appeal against the judgment; or
- the judgment was in respect of a cause of action which for reasons of public policy or for some other similar reason could not have been entertained by the registering court.
It must be emphasised that by the provision of the Ordinance, where the defendant is not ordinarily resident or carrying on business within the jurisdiction of the foreign court and did not previously agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the foreign court, he could simply ignore the proceedings against him even if duly served with the court documents and any judgment entered against him would be unenforceable on the ground that he did not submit to the jurisdiction of the court. The Supreme Court although with reservations enforced this provision of the ordinance in Grosvenor Casinos Ltd v. Ghassan Haloui (2009) LPELR-1340(SC), where it held:
“it is particularly alarming that when in a case like this, a person ordinarily resident in Nigeria obtains credit in England and in satisfaction issues a cheque which is later dishonoured, the judgment obtained against him cannot be enforced in Nigeria. Under section 3(2)(b) above, the judgment of a court in England cannot be enforced in Nigeria on the ground that a defendant has not submitted to the jurisdiction of the English Court. There is an urgent need to reform our law on the matter. It is an open invitation to fraud and improper conduct.”
Enforcement of Judgement under the Foreign Judgment (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act
The Foreign Judgement (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act upon enactment did not repeal the provisions of the Ordinance. The Act however gave the Minister of Justice powers to make an Order extending the application of the Act to any foreign country with substantial reciprocity of treatment with respect to the enforcement of foreign judgment. to determine what country to extend.
Unlike the Ordinance which have a 12 months limitation period, the Act allows a judgment creditor to apply to a superior court in Nigeria at any time within six years after the date of the judgment to have the judgment registered in such court. It must, however, be noted that where the Minister of Justice does not extend reciprocity to a country, judgment from courts of such countries can only be enforced within 12 months (Macaulay v. R. Z. B Austria (1999) LPELR-13079(CA); Teleglobe America Inc. v. 21st Century Tech. Ltd (2008) LPELR-5006(CA))
The Act provides that a court can refuse to register a foreign judgment if it is satisfied that:
- the judgment is not a judgment to which Part 1 of the Act applies or was registered in contravention of the provisions of the Act;
- the courts of the country of the original court had no jurisdiction in the circumstances of the case;
- the judgment debtor, being the defendant in the proceedings in the original court, did not (notwithstanding that process may have been duly served on him in accordance with the law of the country of the original court) received notice of those proceedings in sufficient time to enable him to defend the proceedings and did not appear;
- the judgment was obtained by fraud;
- the enforcement of the judgment would be contrary to public policy in Nigeria; or
- the rights under the judgment are not vested in the person by whom the application for registration was made.
The effect of the two statues regarding the enforcement of foreign judgments in Nigeria is that judgment of any foreign country could be registered and enforced in Nigeria either on the basis of the Ordinance (for judgements of the United Kingdom or the other jurisdictions identified in paragraph 2.0 above) or section 10(a) of the Act (for all other jurisdictions). Once registered, a foreign judgment for the purpose of execution carries the same weight as the judgment of the registering court.
Berkeley Legal has expertise in enforcement of foreign judgment and is able to assist in the recovery of debts and other related matters.
The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you require specific legal advice on any of the matters covered in this article please contact firstname.lastname@example.org