By Davidson Iriekpen
Justice Benedict Kanyip of the National Industrial Court (NIC) in Lagos yesterday dismissed a preliminary objection filed by the Lagos State Government to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to hear the suit filed by the sacked medical doctors under the aegis of the Medical Guild.
The doctors had through their lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, approached the court seeking among other things, an order of injunction restraining the government from dismissing them from service.
In his judgement, Justice Kanyip, held that justice would be done in the matter if parties were given opportunity to address the issues at trial rather than being shut-out.
While the court agreed with Lagos State that Medical Guild is not a legal entity, it held that hearing the suit on its merit would give parties opportunity to be held responsible for their actions.
Justice Kanyip held “I think the justice of this case requires that parties be given opportunity to address the issue at trial and on merit and not just to shut-out all enquiries at the preliminary stage as the defendants would want me to do. I hold that this court has jurisdiction to hear and determine the issues at hand.”
The court further held that the suit filed by the sacked doctors is sustainable and that Section 254 C (1) of the Constitution vested on the court exclusive jurisdiction to hear and entertain matters relating to the condition of service of workers and other labour disputes.
The judge at trial, said he would take judicial notice of the claims of the claimants, particularly whether they were right to have embarked on strike, whether they have reasonable entitlement in relation to the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS), whether a letter purportedly written by the Lagos State Head of Service to the Chairman of Medical Guild dated November 19, 2010 is qualified as term of settlement.
On whether the claimants in their individual capacity could sustain the action, Justice Kanyip said “take away the Medical Guild, what we have left are two individuals who are human beings. The law is clear that a natural person has capacity to sue and be sued in their name and whether the action would succeed should be left for the court to determine.”
The doctors had in their statement of claim sought among other things an order of injunction restraining the government from dismissing them from service.
But, in a notice of preliminary objection filed by the Attorney General of Lagos State, Mr. Ade Ipaye, he urged the court to decline jurisdiction to hear the suit on the ground that it was instituted on behalf of the Medical Guild, an entity not known to law.
Ipaye submitted that the suit filed by the doctors could not be substantiated because the 1st and 2nd claimants predicated their demands on a purported agreement entered into between the Medical Guild and the state government.
He argued that the Medical Guild did not have locus standi to maintain the suit or even enter into alleged agreement hence incompetent to initiate the suit.
Citing plethora of legal authorities, Ipaye argued that even if there was an agreement the doctors are strangers to the said agreement and could not enforce it in a law court.
He maintained that since the doctors were not employees of the Federal Civil Service, they could not have been party to the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS).
Opposing the application, Aturu submitted that the preliminary objection was a mere technicality meant to defeat the course of justice.
He argued that the Medical Guild being an incorporated body could sue and be sued hence known to law.
Aturu argued that the National Industrial Court has jurisdiction to hear matters relating to employment and wages dispute involving an employer and employee.
He cited a letter allegedly written by the Head of Service, Lagos State to the aggrieved doctor which he argued constituted a term of settlement between the claimants and the state government.
Further hearing in the case has been fixed for June 19.
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