The Hierarchy Of Courts In Nigeria Explained

There are different types of courts in Nigeria and these some courts have relatively higher powers than the other. If you interested in knowing the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria, join us as we take a look at this together.

The law of Nigeria consists of courts, offences, and various types of laws. According to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which was established on 29 May 1999, all courts in Nigeria have their own levels with the Supreme Court of Nigeria being the highest court in the country.

Hierarchy of courts in Nigeria - Image

The four distinct legal systems in Nigeria include English law, Common law, Customary Law, and Sharia (Islamic) Law. The English law is the most respected because it was derived from the colonial era, while common law is a development from its post-colonial independence.

An example of the implementation of the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria is the are of appealing judgments. A judgment made by a Supreme court cannot be appealed at the appeal court while the judgment made at an appeal court can be appealed and nullified at the Supreme Court.

Below is a hierarchy of courts in Nigeria arranged in the order of their powers.

Hierarchy of the Nigerian Legal System 

1) The Supreme Court of Nigeria

The Supreme court of Nigeria is currently the highest or apex court in the country and judgements served in this court can’t be appealed in another court because it is the highest court in the country’s legal system.

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It is mainly a court of appellate jurisdiction which means this court has the power to review, amend and overrule decisions of a trial court or other lower tribunal. The supreme court is located at the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, Abuja.

This apex court is made up of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and around 21 or more justices appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and subject to confirmation by the Nigerian Senate.

2) The Court of Appeal

Next on the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria after the Supreme court of Nigeria is the Court of Appeal. It is the next highest court in the country and it is also located at the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, Abuja.

The Court of Appeal is also a court of appellate jurisdiction but has its original jurisdiction for presidential/vice-presidential and governorship/deputy-governorship election petitions.

It was established by Section 237 of the 1999 Constitution and led by the President of the Court of Appeal and comprises of 49 judges at all times. It appeals cases from State High Courts, the Federal High Court, the Customary Court of Appeal of a State, Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the Court Martial, Sharia Court of Appeal of a State, and any other Tribunal in Nigeria.

3) The Federal High Court

The Federal High Court is the third court in the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria. It was established by Section 249 of the 1999 Constitution and it is headed by the Chief Judge and a number of Judges allowed may be preassigned by an Act of the National Assembly.

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It was created with a mission to bring the administration of justice closer to the people it has a division/branch in each of the thirty-six states of the country.

4) State High Court

Next on the hierarchy of the Nigerian legal system is the State High Court. It was established by Section 255 of the 1999 Constitution and located in the 36 states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory.

Most times the State High Court and the Federal High Court is often confused for each other but one thing you should know about these two courses is the beforementioned one if higher than the other in terms of legal power.

State High courts are located in the 36 states of the federation and they are presided over by Chief Judges who are assisted by other Judges.

5) The Customary Court of Appeal

The Customary Court of Appeal is relatively lower in power when compared to other courts listed above. It was established by Section 265 of the 1999 Constitution and caters to the FCT. While Section 280 provides for the dispensable establishment of the Customary Court of Appeal for any State that claims it in Nigeria.

Customary Courts are presided over by a Judges and these judges are referred to as “President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the state/FCT” and these judges are assisted by other Judges in the state/F.C.T.

6)  Sharia Court of Appeal

The Sharia Court of Appeal of a state/FCT is the highest Sharia law court in a state/FCT. The Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja was established by Section 260 of the 1999 Constitution. While Section 275 provides for a dispensable establishment of a Sharia Court of Appeal for any State that claims it is in Nigeria.

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Sharia courts are mostly used in Muslim dominated states like in various northern states and these courts are presided over by Sharia judges who are known Grand Khadis and they are assisted by other Khadis.

7) Magistrate Courts

Magistrate courts are tier 4 courts and they’re located in all states in Nigeria. They’re established by the House of Assembly of a State because they’re not provided for in the 1999 Constitution.

The jurisdiction of these kinds of courts is provided for under the different rules of each State establishing them. They are known as Magistrate Courts in the southern parts of Nigeria and referred to as District Courts on Northern Nigeria.

8) Customary & Sharia Courts

On the last position of the hierarchy of courts in Nigeria are the Customary and Sharia courts. Customary courts take care of normal customary law cases while Sharia courts handle cases/offences that are related to the Sharia law.

Sharia courts are mostly used in Northen Nigeria which is mostly dominated by Muslims. Full Sharia law was first passed into law in Zamfara in late 1999 and the law came into effect in January 2000 and since then, some other Northern states like Kano, Katsina, Niger, Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna, Gombe, Sokoto, Jigawa, Yobe, and Kebbi states have also implemented the law.

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