By Innocent Anaba
LAGOS â€” The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos, yesterday laid to rest, the issue of admissibility of computer-generated statements of account as an evidence in criminal trial. It overruled a decision of a Federal High Court, Lagos that same is not admissible because it is not recognised by the Evidence Act.
The appellate court was ruling on an appeal by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, against the decision of Justice Ahmed Mohammed, Federal High Court, Lagos, which refused to admit in evidence, copies of bank statements allegedly belonging toÂ former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, who is being prosecuted on corruption charges.
The court allowed the EFCCâ€™s appeal, after agreeing that â€œcomputer-generated statements of account form part of the â€˜Bankerâ€™s Bookâ€™ of record in the day-to-day banking services.â€
The Court of Appeal unanimously set aside the judgment of Justice Mohammed and by this, trial will continue in the matter, which had earlier been stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.
It will be recalled that EFCC had sought to tender the printouts of the bank statements as evidence to prove that Fani-Kayode laundered money through some of his bank accounts, but same was opposed by his counsel, who argued that printouts of the bank statements is not known to the Evidence Act to fall into categories of exhibits that could be regarded as original documents and the trial lower court upheld the argument and refused theÂ printouts of the bank statements.
Not satisfied with the lower courtâ€™s decision, the EFCC appealed against same, asking the appellate court to set aside same. It will also be recalled that the trial courtâ€™s decision had generated serious reactions from some Nigerians and lawyers, who had called on the National Assembly to the amend the Evidence ActÂ in view of current realities in the world brought about by the new information age.
Ruling on the appeal, Justice Justice Adamu Galinje said:Â that the appeal by EFCC is meritorious and ought to be allowed.
Justice Galinje after reviewing arguments of both parties, â€œI find the appeal meritorious and it ought to be allowed. The decision of the lower court is set aside. The computer-generated statement of account is hereby marked as exhibit D.â€
The two other Justices in the panel,Â ClaraÂ Ogunbiyi (Presiding) and Mensen Donbgan â€“Mensem, both agreed with the lead ruling, adding that the inevitable conclusion was that the appeal is meritorious and should be allowed.
EFCC had in its appeal of March 31,Â challenged the ruling of the lower court on the ground that the judge erred in law when he relied on the case of UBA Plc VS S.A.F.P.U (2004) 3 NWLR (Part 861) 516 to hold that the computer printout of Fani-Kayodeâ€™s statement of account is inadmissible under any circumstance by virtue of the provisions of the Evidence Act.
Fani-Kayode counsel, had opposed the appeal, contending that the documents were not original and that the prosecution had not proved that the documents had not been tampered with.
It will be recalled that the lower court had held that though the evidence was very relevant to the case, they were not admissible as the law does not allow tendering of computer printouts because they cannot be regarded as original, adding that until the National Assembly to make provisions for the admissibility of computer print-outs, the evidence cannot be admitted.
Fani-Kayode was arraigned before the court by the EFCC on a 47-count charge relating to fraud, corrupt enrichment and money laundering, to which he pleaded not guilty.