Many Judgement Creditors have been frustrated in their bid to reap the fruits of judgments via garnishee proceedings by reason of their understandable inability to provide account particulars of the respective Judgment Creditors in the applications especially where the trial court insists on having such particulars before granting the requests.
In a decision handed down by Enugu division of the Court of Appeal on the 4th day of May 2017 in Fidelity Bank Plc v Chief Emmanuel Eze Onwuka (2017) LPELR-42839(CA), the poser appears to have been repeatedly addressed and resolved by the court as would be seen later on.
The Respondent obtained a judgment against Anambra State and subsequently obtained an Order Nisi at the High Court directing Fidelity Bank to show cause why an order absolute should not be made.
Instead of filing affidavit showing the judgment debtor's account balance, the bank filed an affidavit but did not furnish the court with the amount belonging to the judgment debtor in its custody citing lack of specific account details as the reason for the non-disclosure.
The High Court consequently directed the Appellant (Fidelity Bank) to furnish the Court with the amount in all the accounts maintained by the Anambra State Government with the Appellant within seven (7) days but the bank appealed.
At the Court of Appeal, the Appellant distilled as one of the two issues in its brief of argument thus:
Whether the lower Court, on the strength of non-disclosure of sufficient particulars, to wit; Account Names and Account Number of the judgment Debtor, domiciled with the Appellant?
In resolving the issue, the Enugu division of Court of Appeal, per Ogunwumiju, JCA held thus:
"Appellant's counsel argued strenuously that without
the account number of the judgment debtor, to reveal all account
details of the judgment debtor amounts to a usurpation of the
contractual duty of care owed the judgment debtor by the Appellant
and that the Appellant owes the judgment debtor a contractual duty
of care and security of its account position. This argument of
counsel is misguided. Mbaba, JCA in Oceanic Bank Plc v.
Oladepo (2012) LPELR-19670 rightly put
the position of this Court as follows:
"I have already stated in this judgment that the relevant particulars required by Section 83(1) of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act, for the purpose of garnishee proceedings, had been satisfied by the 1st Respondent and that the application at the lower court was not speculative, simply because the account number and the exact amount to the credit of the judgment debtor were not stated by the 1st Respondent. Of course, the information as to the account number and the exact amount in the account, were information within the exclusive knowledge of the Appellant and the 2nd Respondent, and by banking confidentialities, division of such information is not permitted to a 3rd party. The 1st Respondent was therefore not expected to have such detail." (Emphasis mine)
There is no doubt that a bank owes its customers a legal duty of confidentiality not to disclose information to third parties, a breach of which could give rise to liability in damages. This duty arises between a bank and its customer as soon as an account is opened and as a matter of fact, it continues even after the termination of the banker/customer relationship. All information which include details of customers??? accounts, their names and addresses obtained by virtue of the banker/customer relationship are covered by the duty of confidentiality and must be protected from unauthorized access by a third party. However, there are exceptions to this duty of confidentiality owed a customer by the bank.....In other words, one of the exceptions to the duty of confidentiality owed a customer by the bank is where there is a Court order compelling the disclosure of the account details or any other information of a customer. Such Court order obviates the liability that a bank would ordinarily incur in the event of a breach of the duty of confidentiality. An Order Nisi is no less an order of Court and the Appellant is bound by it. In other words, one of the exceptions to the duty of confidentiality owed a customer by the bank is where there is a Court order compelling the disclosure of the account details or any other information of a customer. Such Court order obviates the liability that a bank would ordinarily incur in the event of a breach of the duty of confidentiality. An Order Nisi is no less an order of Court and the Appellant is bound by it."
Specifically, on the issue, Ogunwumiju, JCA held at page 20 of the report thus:
"The law does not prohibit a judgment creditor who does not have the account numbers of a judgment debtor from instituting garnishee proceedings against a bank in whose custody the monies of a judgment debtor resides. Counsel for the Appellant made heavy weather of this issue and relied on Sections 83 & 87 in so doing. I have read the provisions and they are generously quoted in this judgment, I see nothing to support the argument of counsel in that regard." (Emphasis mine)
From the decision of the Court of Appeal (as the writer is unaware of a Supreme Court decision on the issue), it is seen that Judgment Creditors can now, without fear of frustration, approach the relevant courts for garnishee proceedings against banks which hold funds belonging to Judgment Debtors even where the Judgment Creditors are not armed with particulars of the accounts as held in the reviewed case of Fidelity v Onwuka and the earlier decision of Oceanic Bank v Mbaba (supra).
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.