An Appellate Court will not interfere with the findings of fact by a Trial Court unless they are perverse, unreasonable or not supported by the evidence adduced before the trial court. It suffices to say once the findings of a trial Court are supported by the evidence on record, an appellate Court cannot interfere with it. In Akubuiro v. Mobil Oil (2012) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1319) 42, this trite position of law was accorded judicial approval, the Court submitted as follows:
The task of upsetting the findings of fact made by a trial Judge is not to be lightly embarked upon. It must be obvious from the record that the findings of fact do not flow from the evidence before any interference can be embarked upon by an appellate court. An appellate court will not interfere with the findings of a trial court unless it is perverse or a miscarriage of justice has been occasioned. (Underlining mine, merely for emphasis)
Understandably, the presumption of the correctness of a finding of fact by a trial Court is rebuttable; an appellate Court must, therefore, be wary in interfering with the findings of fact made by the trial Court which are neither erroneous nor perverse.
ATTITUDE OF THE SUPREME COURT TO CONCURRENT FINDINGS:
Concurrent findings, as a concept, connotes the findings of fact made by a trial Court and confirmed as accurate by an appellate Court (the Court of appeal in this instance). The attitude of the Supreme Court to concurrent findings of fact by the trial Court and the intermediate Court is that unless an appellant is able to show satisfactorily that the findings of fact are perverse, not supported by evidence and unreasonable or have occasioned miscarriage of justice, the Supreme Court will loathe to interfere and disturb such findings of fact. The Supreme Court in a recent authority of Akalazu v. State (2022) 13 NWLR (Pt. 1848) had this to say:
The Attitude of the Supreme Court to the concurrent findings of facts by the two Courts below is that the Court will only interfere or disturb such concurrent findings, if the appellant can show that the concurrent findings of facts are either perverse or they occasioned a miscarriage of justice to the appellant. That is, the only veritable ground for the Supreme Court, in the second tier appeal, to interfere with and disturb concurrent findings of fact of the trial Court and the Court of Appeal is where the findings are perverse. The issues put forward in the instant appeal, for the determination of the appeal situated the appeal squarely on the concurrent findings of fact by the trial court and the Court of Appeal…. The appellant herein was unable to show whether the concurrent findings of the trial court and the Court of Appeal were perverse or not based on the evidence before the courts. The Supreme Court was therefore precluded from interfering with the concurrent findings of the two lower courts.
The onus lies on an appellant to show that there are special circumstances to warrant interference by the Supreme Court with concurrent findings of fact of two lower Courts. The burden must be clearly discharged otherwise the Supreme Court will not re-open those facts for re-evaluation.
Notably, the word perverse appears recurring in the submissions above. It is tenable to conclude that appellate Courts (the Supreme Court inclusive) would be seized with the vires to disturb a finding of fact which was perverse.
Thus, what makes a finding perverse?
A perverse finding is one which ignores the facts or evidence led before the Court and when considered as a whole, amounts to a miscarriage of justice. A finding is perverse if it is not borne out of the evidence before the Court. A perverse finding is a finding which is not only against the weight of evidence but is altogether against the evidence itself. It is a finding which no reasonable tribunal should have arrived at in the light of the evidence before it. In the case of Oguntade v. Oyelakin (2020) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1719) 41, the Court pronounced on what amounts to Perverse Finding in the following words:
A perverse finding or decision of a court is one in which the court’s finding or inference being appealed against is completely unsupported by evidence or that it is so manifestly unreasonable that no reasonable tribunal could have arrived at such a finding or conclusion on the evidence. A court’s finding contrary to a principle of law and/or procedure that equally occasions miscarriage of justice falls within the category of perverse decisions the appellate court interferes with.
It is noteworthy to point out that findings of a trial Court which are not supported by evidence at all are patently perverse. And perverse findings cannot sustain a judgment even if upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeal. Where the Court of Appeal upholds the perverse findings of fact, the Supreme Court has a duty to set them aside. A finding is perverse if it does not evolve from the evidence on record or in arriving at a finding the Court had taken into account extraneous matters, or excluded relevant matters from its consideration. A finding would also be perverse where the Court whose decision is being reviewed, applied a wrong principle of law, or applied the correct principle of law wrongly to the facts in dispute in a matter, and thereby occasioned a miscarriage of justice.