Admiralty Jurisdiction Act offends 1999 Constitution – Court Rules
His Lordship, Hon. Justice Polycarp Hamman of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Portharcourt Judicial Division has dismissed the preliminary objection filed by Seateam Offshore Ltd in a matter brought by Akuroma Stephen for lacking merit, voided section 2(3)(c)(d)&(r) of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act 2004 for being inconsistent with the constitutional provisions vesting the court with exclusive jurisdiction over labour and employment-related cases.
The Court held that with the coming into effect of the 3rd Alteration which is now section 254C of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, that the argument of firm counsel on jurisdiction was misplaced and of no moment.
From facts, the Defendant’s- Seateam Offshore Ltd filed Notice of Preliminary Objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine the matter, argued that, the case of the claimant is in the nature of maritime claim which can only be entertained exclusively by the Federal High Court in accordance with the provisions of section 251(1)(g) of the Constitution of the FRN 1999 (as amended) and the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act that nothing in the 3rd Alteration Act conferring jurisdiction on the court in cases involving a seaman and the owner of a ship which is a maritime claim as in the instant suit urged the court to strike out the instant suit for want of jurisdiction.
In opposition, the claimant – Akuroma maintained that section 254C of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Third Alteration) which conferred jurisdiction on Industrial court has overridden the provisions of section 2(3)(d) and (r) of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act urged to refuse the application and assume jurisdiction in the matter.
After listening to the submission of both counsel, the presiding Judge, Justice Polycarp held that with the coming into effect of the 3rd Alteration which is now section 254C of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, particularly sub-section (1)(a) thereof, that the argument of defence counsel on jurisdiction was misplaced and of no moment.
“The National Industrial Court of Nigeria being a specialized court created for expeditious determination of all labour and employment-related matters exercises its jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in this country (including the Federal High Court).
“Having perused the claimant’s pleadings, particularly the paragraphs of the Statement of Facts earlier reproduced in this Ruling, I am satisfied that the case of the Claimant falls within the circumscribed jurisdiction of this court being claims relating to health and safety of a worker while onboard a ship and working for the Defendant.
“On the strength of the above cited authorities, and specifically section 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, I hold that section 2(3)(c)(d)&(r) of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act Cap. A5 LFN 2004 offends section 254C of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and same is hereby declared void to the extent of its inconsistency with the constitutional provisions vesting this court with exclusive jurisdiction over labour and employment related cases.
“The argument that since section 251(1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, vests jurisdiction on maritime matters on the Federal High Court, hence this court lacks jurisdiction over this case is equally misplaced as there is nothing relating to admiralty/maritime or navigation on the waterways in this suit.” Justice Polycarp ruled.
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