In criminal matters, a verdict of “guilty” has dire consequences on the life or liberty of the person accused of the crime. For this reason, criminal matters require a higher standard of proof than civil matters. All the ingredients or components of a crime must be proved before a person accused of committing the offence can be convicted of the offence. Where any or all of the ingredients are missing, the accused person will be discharged and acquitted of the offence.
This was the overarching principle affirmed by the High Court of Lagos State in CHARGE NO.ID/6586C/2017: FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA V. SOLOMON DURODOLA & SOLADEX VENTURES LIMITED.
In that case, one Mr. A had informed Mr. X of an investment opportunity obtained by Mr. A and contained in a document which was addressed to Mr. A’s company but whose address was indicated on the document to be the same as the address of Soladex Ventures Limited (Soladex), a company owned and operated by Durodola. In furtherance of their transaction, Mr. A and Mr. X had met close to Soladex’s premises to discuss the business. After Mr. X’s investment in the business opportunity, Mr. A became unavailable.
Durodola and Soladex were charged before the High Court of Lagos State for using Soladex’s premises for an unlawful purpose contrary to Section 3 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act 2006. Durodola was alleged to have allowed Mr. A. to use Soladex’s premises for a meeting with Mr. X during which Mr. A induced Mr. X to part with his money. On the Charge sheet, Soladex’s premises was described as Plot B rather than Plot 8 where it was actually located.
At the trial, Durodola contended that he was not a party to the transaction between Mr. A and Mr. X and that when he became aware of their transaction he informed Mr. A that Soladex’s address could not be used for the transaction. These facts were confirmed by Mr. A who was compelled by order of court to give evidence. Mr. X on his part, alleged that he met Durodola and Mr. A at Soladex’s premises and handed part of the money to Durodola who then handed it over to Mr. A.
In reaching a decision, the Court noted that the ingredients of the offence with which Durodola and Soladex were charged require that there must be a person who is the occupier or concerned with the management of the premises in question and that the person must have caused or knowingly permitted the premises to be used for an unlawful purpose.
The Court found that Mr. X had given money to Mr. A outside Soladex’s premises (not inside) and that the address on the Charge sheet was different from Soladex’s address. Consequently, there was doubt as to the premises used. The Court also noted that the occupier of the premises described in the Charge sheet was not identified and that in view of the evidence, it was not proved that Durodola and Soladex allowed their premises to be used for an unlawful purpose.
In its reasoning, the Court emphasised the necessity for the Prosecution to establish its case beyond reasonable doubt. In this instance, there were doubts as to the identity of the premises and whether any offence was committed by the Defendants. The court therefore acquitted and discharged the Durodola and Soladex.
This case reaffirms the fundamental principle that the ingredients of a criminal offence must be proved beyond reasonable doubt as no citizen should lightly be deprived of his rights and liberties.
Tayo Oyetibo LP represented the Defendants