Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja, presided over by Justice Lateefa Okunnu, on Thursday set aside March 3, 2015 as the day to deliver ruling on the prohibition suit initiated by the Registered Trustees of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), alongside its founder, Prophet Temitope Joshua.
The Judge arrived at the decision, shortly after lead counsel to SCOAN, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), replied on point of law to the argument raised by lawyer to the Lagos State Government before the court.
The suit was instituted against the Lagos State Coroners Court sitting in Ikeja, and the Chief Magistrate Oyetade Komolafe, who was presiding over the court.
Specifically, SCOAN wanted the court to stay further proceedings of the inquest and suspend further actions on Joshua’s invitation to appear to give evidence before it, pending the determination of his suit against Chief Magistrate Komolafe before the High Court.
SCOAN alongside its Founder had filed the suit pursuant to Order 40 Rule 5 of the High Court of Lagos State (Civil Procedure Rules) 2012 and signed by O.M Abimbola.
The suit was praying Justice Okunnu for an order of prohibition, against the Coroner’s Court of Lagos State and the presiding Magistrate Komolafe from exceeding their jurisdiction in the conduct of Coroner’s inquest into the death of unknown persons in the collapsed building within the premises of SCOAN on September 12, 2014.
According to the suit designated ID/188MJR/2014, SCOAN wanted the Lagos High Court to issue, “An order of Certiorari to quash the proceedings of the 1st and 2nd respondents in the conduct of the coroner’s inquest into the death of unknown persons in the Synagogue Church of All Nations, Ikotun Egbe, Lagos on 12th September, 2014 in suit number CR/AL/01/2014 concerning matters, issues and circumstances other than what directly caused the death of the victims and the manner of their death for having been conducted without or in excess of the statutory jurisdiction of the 1st and 2nd respondents.
“A declaration that the decision of the coroner to summon the applicants to give evidence at a time when no materials were placed before the coroner against the applicants is a breach of the applicants right to fair hearing.
“A declaration that the coroner who relied on his personal knowledge of the facts of the case is not a proper person to preside at the inquest into the death of people at the collapsed building of Synagogue Church of All Nations.
“A declaration that the coroner who relied on extraneous matters not borne out of the records to reach his conclusion that the 2nd applicant is a necessary witness when in fact is not, is in breach of the rules of natural justice and fair hearing guaranteed by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“An order prohibiting the coroner from conducting further inquest/proceedings relating to the construction of the collapsed building which facts were clearly outside the scope of a coroner’s inquest.
“An order quashing the proceedings of the coroner’s inquest in its entirety for being conducted in breach of the rule of natural justice, likelihood of bias, and for taking proceedings clearly outside the scope of the jurisdiction of the respondent.
“An order prohibiting the respondent from insisting on the personal attendance of the 2nd applicant as such will be without or in excess of jurisdiction, unconstitutional and unlawful.
“An order of injunction to restrain the respondents as presently constituted from further conducting any inquest into the collapsed building of Synagogue Church of All Nations, as the 2nd respondent had demonstrated personal interest in the subject matter and his neutrality clearly compromised.
“An order of injunction restraining the coroner from taking and continuing to take evidence/proceedings on the issue of approval and construction of the collapsed building, which issues were clearly outside the scope of a coroner’s inquest.”
In arguing this application, SCOAN alongside its founder had told the Judge that Chief Magistrate Komolafe, who is the Coroner investigating the collapse of the guest house belonging to the church, had exceeded the jurisdiction of a Coroners Court.
The duo made the assertion through their lawyer, Fagbemi (SAN) while arguing the suit made against Chief Magistrate Komolafe at the Lagos High Court.
The Coroners Inquest was initiated by the Lagos State Government to carryout investigation into the September 12, 2014 collapse of the six-storey building which claimed the life of 116 persons.
In moving the application, Chief Fagbemi (SAN) maintained that the Lagos State Coroner’s Law 2007 only gave powers to the Coroner to determine the cause of death and to identify the body of the deceased.
The SAN further argued that taking evidence on the issues of approval and construction of the collapsed building were clearly outside the scope and jurisdiction of the Coroner’s Court.
The SAN revealed that Chief Magistrate Komolafe had been hearing evidence on such extraneous issues at the inquest which started proceedings on October 13,2014.
The senior lawyer maintained that Sections 32 and 33 of the Coroner Law does not empower the Coroner to summon on manners of persons to appear before the inquest, adding that the Coroner’s summons on Prophet Joshua to personally appear before the inquest was unconstitutional and a breach of his right to fair hearing.
He equally insisted that Chief Magistrate Komolafe had shown personal interest in the subject matter which could lead to being biased against his client.
Chief Fagbemi then prayed Justice Okunnu to grant the application and declare the Coroner proceedings null and void.
In responding, lawyer to the Lagos State Government, Afeez Owokoniran, prayed the court to throw out the suit.
According to the lawyer, the Coroner had extensive powers to investigate the cause and circumstances of death and bring his findings and recommendations to the attention of appropriate authorities.
He said, “In doing this, he has all the powers of a magistrate to summon and compel the attendance of witnesses, including medical examiners, and require them to give evidence, produce documents or present other relevant materials.
“In order to determine the cause of death, the Coroner has the latitude to investigate issues pertaining to building approval, soil testing and materials used in the construction of the collapsed building.”