The Supreme Court has by a unanimous decision upheld the jurisdiction of the High Court in ordering the release of the body of the late Nigerian businessman and philanthropist, Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, to his family for burial.
Mrs Seinye Lulu-Briggs, widow of the late High Chief Lulu-Briggs, had challenged the jurisdiction of the High Court presided over by Court of Appeal judge, Justice Eric Kyei-Baffour, sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court Judge, to make orders he had hoped would bring the protracted litigation surrounding the controversial death of the old man, to an end.
The five-member panel of Justices V.I.M. Dotse (Chairing), N.S. Gbadegbe, Yaw. Appau, S.K. Marful-Sau and N.A. Kotey on February 11, 2020, held that after considering all the processes filed in the case for and in opposition, besides listening to arguments by counsel, the court was of the opinion that the application lacked merit and consequently dismissed it.
“The learned Court of Appeal Judge sitting with additional responsibility had jurisdiction to grant the orders he made on 23rd December, 2019”, the Supreme Court affirmed.
The late High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs, then aged 88, allegedly died shortly on arrival at the Kotoka Airport, Accra on 27th December, 2018 while travelling with Mrs Seinye Lulu-Briggs, however litigation between his biological family led by three of his adult sons (Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Senibo Lulu-Briggs, and Sofiri Lulu-Briggs) and the widow over who has the right to hold funeral rites and bury him, has meant that the body remains in the cold rooms of the Enterprise Funeral Services Ghana Limited at Haatso in Accra.
While the widow has maintained the old man died naturally, the sons suspect otherwise.
On December 23, 2019, Justice Kyei-Baffour among others, ordered the widow and the Enterprise Funeral Services to release the mortal remains of the late Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs to the family, led by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, to covey same to Nigeria, for the burial and funeral rites.
But no sooner had the High Court made the orders than the widow filed an appeal challenging the jurisdiction of the court to decide the matter so conclusively.
The High Court’s specific orders were as follows:
1. That the mortal remains of the deceased, High Chief (Dr.) Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs be released by the 4th Defendant, Enterprise Funeral Services Ghana Limited (Transitions place) and the Ghana Police Service, to the family by custom, led by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, to convey same to Nigeria, for the burial and funeral rites.
2. That the delegation led by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs that will convey the body of the deceased to Nigeria, should include two representatives of the Plaintiff/Widow, who should be part of the delegation that will convey the body to Nigeria.
3. That the family of the deceased, led by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, will give a binding unconditional undertaking that, under no circumstance will the family allow or suffer the Plaintiff/Widow to undergo any cruel, inhumane or barbaric customary practices in Nigeria, when the body is conveyed.
4. That the family, led by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, will further undertake that the Plaintiff/Widow will be ably represented in the burial and funeral preparations, and will be allowed to play her role as a widow mourning her deceased husband.
5. The court further ordered the 37 Military Hospital which conducted an autopsy on the body of the deceased to file the autopsy report at the Registry of the Court within three (3) days upon service of the Order on the Hospital.
Widows grounds of appeal
a) That the learned trial judge erred in determining the Appellants’ substantive suits without affording the Appellants the opportunity to prove their case through a trial.
b) That the trial judge erred in determining the Appellants’ suit solely based on the affidavits in support and in opposition to the injunction applications before him.
c) That the trial judge erred in holding that Dumo Lulu-Briggs is the head of the Deceased’s family.
d) That the trial judge failed to recognize Madam Seinye Lulu-Briggs’ unchallenged permits and approvals to repatriate the Deceased’s body as conferring a right and duty on her to do same.
e) That having adjourned proceedings in order to hear pending interlocutory applications, the learned trial judge acted arbitrarily in delivering a final ruling on the suit.
f) That the order of the trial judge is against the weight of evidence on record.
g) The Appellants will file additional grounds of appeal upon receipt of a certified copy of the proceedings of the Court.
Mrs Lulu-Briggs asked the Court for the following reliefs:
1. An order setting aside the order of the trial High Court that the mortal remains of the Deceased, High Chief (Dr.) Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs be released by the 4th Defendant/Respondent (Enterprise Funeral Services Ghana Limited) and the 5th Defendant (Ghana Police Service) to the family, led by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, to convey same to Nigeria, for the burial and funeral rites.
2. An order remitting the case to the trial High Court, differently constituted, to be reheard.
3. An order directing the trial High Court to hold an inquiry as to whether under the customary law of the Kalabari people, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Senibo Lulu-Briggs, and Sofiri Lulu-Briggs or their successors, servants, agents, assigns, employees and workmen, howsoever described, are entitled to custody of the Deceased’s body.
4. An interlocutory injunction restraining Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Senibo Lulu-Briggs, and Sofiri Lulu-Briggs their successors, servants, agents, assigns, employees and workmen, howsoever described, from interfering with the Deceased’s body and conveying same to Nigeria until the trial High Court determines the Appellants’ substantive suit.
5. An interlocutory injunction restraining the 4th Defendant/Respondent/Respondent (Enterprise Funeral Services Ghana Limited) from releasing the Deceased’s body to Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Senibo Lulu-Briggs, and Sofiri Lulu-Briggs their successors, servants, agents, assigns, employees and workmen, howsoever described, pending the determination of the instant appeal.
Source: Graphic Online | Ghana