Under section 36(1) of the 1999 constitution, it is guaranteed that in both civil and criminal proceedings a person is entitled to fair hearing within a reasonable time before a court or other tribunal established by law. A person’s right to fair hearing is guaranteed at all times including where the question or issue for determination is by or against any government or authority. The tribunal or court seized of this civil or criminal proceedings shall be “constituted” in such a way as to secure its independence and impartiality”. The supreme court in ISIYAKU MOHAMMED V. KANO NATIVE AUTHORITY, proposed that the litmus test whether the right to fair hearing had been satisfied is predicated upon the impression of a reasonable present at he trial, whether from his observation justice has been done in the case. The right to fair hearing is the cornerstone of justice. Constitutionally and from the body of judicial decision, the right to fair hearing is rooted in the twin pillar of justice which is that:

             i.        a person should be given ample and full opportunity of presenting his own side of a matter (audi alteram partem rule). LS.D.C/V FOREIGN FINANCE CORPORATION, the court of appeal held that when a governor or his officials is acting under section 28 of the land use act to revoke the right of occupancy of a land holder, the governor or his official must, as a condition precedent, give the affected person fair hearing as guaranteed under section 33 of the 1979 constitution before the rights is revoked. Where there is no such hearing, the revocation is unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect whatsoever.

            ii.        To secure the independence and impartiality of the adjudicating tribunal or court, it is also a rule of fair hearing that an accuser should not sit as a judge in his own case or matter (nemo judex incausa sua rule). In LEGAL PRACTITIONERS DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE V. GANI FEWEHINMI, the Supreme Court eloquently restated the essence of the nemo judex principle. In that case, Gani fawehinmi, a legal practitioner was under investigation by the legal practitioners disciplinary committee for some alleged professional wrong doings. The attorney-general of the federation was the chairman of the committee and was the one who made complaints against Gani Fawehinmi to the committee. Three other members of the legal practitioners disciplinary committee had criticized him at a Nigerian bar association executive meeting. On appeal to apex court, it was held that fair hearing is meant to include the observance of the rules of natural justice. That the court or tribunal must not only be unbiased, it must also not place itself in a position in which it may appear that there is likelihood of bias. ESO, JSE held that it was pertinent from the action of the attorney-general in the case that he is not only a judge in his owe case. In effect, the attorney-general was not only the complainant, prosecutor and judge but also heavily biased against the respondent (Gani Fawehinmi).
In another interesting case of GARBA AND 8 OTHERS V. UNIVERSITY OF MAIDUGURI, the deputy vice-chancellor whose house was one of those burnt down during a students riot at University of Maiduguri was the head of investigation panel set up by the University to investigate the riot. The appellants were some of the students expelled as a result of the findings of the panel. The Supreme Court held that a case of bias exists as the deputy vice-chancellor was a complainant; a persecutor and a judge in his own case. Thus, the absence of fair hearing was held to have vitiated the decision of the panel.

          Another important constitutional provision safe-guarding the right to fair hearing is the requirement that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly be seen to have been done. Thus all civil and criminal proceedings including their judgment shall be held in public except where the interest of defence, public safety morality, order, otherwise dictates. Public hearing may not be allowed if the person affected thereby is below the age of eighteen years.
Where a person is charged with a criminal offence, he shall among other things be presumed innocent until he is proved guilty.
This is provided in section 36(5) of the 1999 constitution.

          The constitution makes provision for elaborate procedural safeguards in respect of criminal matters. Hence, under section 36(6) every person charged with a criminal offense shall be entitled:
a.            to be informed promptly in the language that he understands and in detail of the nature o the offense;
b.            to be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense
c.            to defend himself in person or by a legal practitioner of his choice;
d.            to examine in person or by his legal practitioner the witnesses called by he prosecution before the court  and to obtain the attendance and carry out the examination of witnesses, to testify on his behalf before the court on the same conditions as those appllying to the witness called by persecution; and
e.            to have without payment the assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand the language used at the trial of the offense.
Section 36(8) excludes retroactive and retrospective criminal legislation while section 36(12) prescribes unequivocally that “a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offense unless that offense is defined and the penalty is prescribed in a written law”. An accused person may elect to remain at trial and this must not draw adverse comments from the persecution. This is because under section 36(11) no person who is for a criminal offense shall be compelled to give evidence at the trial.

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