AN APPRAISAL OF THE ASCERTAINMENT OF APPLICABLE LAW OF TORTS IN CONFLICT OF LAWS
In Nigeria, as well as other jurisdictions, for example, United States of America, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ghana, South Africa, East Africa, just to mention but a few, there are many laws that are applicable to various subject matters or business. For example, we have criminal law, constitutional law, commercial law, law of evidence, company law etc. Conflict of law is one of such laws in the country that is taught just like it is taught in any of the countries we mentioned above.
Conflict of laws unlike the other kind of laws we mentioned above, is an aspect of international law. In other words, the laws we mentioned above are principally considered as municipal laws or local laws. Conflict of laws is a stoke of international law. In other words, it is a subsidiary of the international law. This is why it is called private international law.
Conflict of laws comes into play or becomes applicable when the issue of jurisdiction is in question. For example, if Mr. Z enters into contract for hiring of Mr. Y’s Peugeot station wagon to carry persons from Zaria to Lagos, on reaching Jeba, the car tumbled and as a result three persons out of the seven persons in the car died. Four other persons sustained serious injuries and they were rushed to Jeba General Hospital and given first
aid treatment. They were later taken to Lagos their hometown. Some few days after they were taken to Lagos, their injuries worsened and consequently they died also. The driver and the hirer of the car were sued in Lagos by heirs of the deceased persons for compensation under the Fatal Accident Law of Lagos.
Under this circumstance, there may be two separate sets of cases. Firstly, the claim of compensation for the first three persons who died in Jebba at the sport where the accident took place, secondly, the Lagos’ case. In all the two cases, the issue of jurisdiction may be germane and need to be settled before the substantive case for claiming of compensation is heard. For the example, with respect to the case filed in Lagos, the counsel to the hirer and driver may raise the issue that though the four persons died in Lagos, the place of accident was Jebba. Or, he may argue that the correct court where the case may be instituted is the place where the contract of carriage was entered into. These and many other arguments could take place in the court until the court resolves on the issue of jurisdiction before the substantive issues is heard. For the first hypothesis, i.e. in respect of the three persons that died in the accident, though, this may be easier than the second one, it also may raise jurisdictional problem. In this regard, which court will hear and determine the issue of compensation, the court in Jebba or the court in Zaria where the contract was entered for carrying the deceased persons to Lagos? These issues may need to be determined before the substantial case is heard.