Rules of Courts in Nigeria
Safety valve clauses refer to those clauses that take care of inadequacies in a provision. It is not possible for the rules of court to adequately provide for all rules of practice and procedure with respect to some given matters. Having this at the back of the mind, the makers of these rules usually provide clauses that will make it possible for a person or the court to rely on for the purposes of resolving a particular matter that may not have been provided for or adequately provided for in the rules of court. Such provisions are usually referred to as Safety Valve Clauses.
For instance, under section 11 the High Court Laws of the then Western Nigeria, it is provided that where the rules of practice and procedure made in the high Court Rules are inadequate or lacking in some respect, resort shall be had to the rules of practice and procedure obtainable in the High court of justice in England.
A similar provision is to be found in section 16 of the High Court Laws of the then Eastern Nigeria. Section 2 of the High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules of Rivers State, 2006 provides thus:
“Where a matter arises in respect of which no provision or no adequate provisions are made in the rules, the court shall adopt such procedure as will in its view do substantial justice between the parties concerned”.
These rules of practice and procedure exist among other things to give certainty and uniformity in applying the rules.
As an addition to the rules of practice and procedure, a particular statute may confer or vest in a particular officer the power and or authority to make specific rules or give specific directives as to how a particular issue/matter may be treated. This is known as a practice direction. Usually, practice directions are conferred on the presiding judge of a court system, for example the C.J.N. (Chief Justice of Nigeria), P.C.A. (President Court of Appeal), and the C.J. (Chief Judge).
It should be noted that where the operation or the implementation of a rule of court or the practice direction comes in conflict with an existing statutory provision, the rule of court or practice direction shall to the extent of its inconsistency be rendered void.
A practice direction is therefore a direction given by the appropriate authority, stating the way and manner a particular rule of court should be complied with, observed or obeyed.