The fundamental thesis supporting the necessity of this book as expressed by its author in the preface is that ‘if wigs and robes are touted as symbols of neocolonialism and colonial inheritance, how much more our perennial fastening to the definitions under the English law when we can now, for whatever it is worth, boast that, the Nigerian law has come of age to have its own unnecessarily different but peculiar definition of words and phrases’. The author goes on to identify a small number of expressions that are peculiar to Nigeria and therefore would not be found in any other dictionaries of the law. But, as the author’s thesis suggests, those are in a sense irrelevant to the fundamental value proposition of the work. An expression that is found only in Nigeria will necessarily have a Nigerian definition; the primary importance of this work lies in providing the opportunity for Nigerian judges to shape the development of Nigerian law in accordance with local context and principle, through the development of a body of general definitions brought together in one place and therefore capable of cross-contextual construction. As such this is an exciting work and warmly to be welcomed. The author is to be congratulated not only on the sheer magnitude of the task of compiling a new dictionary of law, but also on the skill with which judgments have been filleted and summarized so as to provide definitions at once concise and comprehensive. Incidentally, that also makes the work eminently readable, something that cannot be said for all dictionaries of law. If I have one criticism of this important work it is that it straddles the divide between a legal dictionary and a judicial dictionary in a way that may to a minor degree inhibit reliance upon it by a judicial or other reader. For example, the author defines the term ‘arbitrator’ by reference to a case decided in 1990. Clearly, the meaning of the expression has remained constant since long before that date, and the term refers to a fundamental concept of commercial law. It is therefore probably unnecessary to ascribe a judicial definition to it, as distinct from an authoritative legal definition, but if a judicial definition is to be supplied, it should be drawn from what is clearly both an early and a leading case. This same combination of legal and judicial dictionary results in a number of places in a definition having two elements, a legal definition not appearing to cite authority, followed by a judicial definition citing authority. The problem with this is that the courts can be expected to give different kinds of attention and authority to legal dictionaries and judicial dictionaries. In the case of the latter, the courts are in effect following their own binding or persuasive authority; in the case of the former, the courts are deferring to experts in particular areas and would normally expect to see some evidence that the editorial base of the dictionary extended, at least in an early edition, throughout the range of legal subjects with which it deals. This criticism, if so it be, is likely to be purely ephemeral: the author explains that this is very much a first and initial product, albeit based on impressively extensive research. In the later editions, I am confident that the author will work with and formally credit a range of experts in different fields, thus both expanding and giving additional authority to the legal dictionary aspects of the work. A question that all editors of judicial dictionaries ask themselves today is whether it is still sound and helpful to confine a judicial dictionary to judicial utterances or whether it should include statutory references. My own involvement in editing a judicial dictionary arose from bringing to the attention of its publishers a particular instance of failure to reflect the overall state of the modern law by preserving the judicial dicta without reference to their qualification or abolition by statute. My view, therefore, is that the interplay between the courts and the legislature is so close nowadays that a judicial dictionary will risk giving not merely a partial impression, but also an actually misleading one, unless it includes an increasing range of statutory definitions drawn from primary and subordinate legislation, and permits itself to draw from other materials in appropriate contexts. Again, I am confident that this is a matter that the learned author will address in future editions and I look forward to seeing the additional comprehensiveness of the result. Inevitably in an enterprise of this kind, it is possible to quibble with individual definitions. For example, the base definition of ‘force’ is given as compulsion by physical means, and the reader will immediately appreciate that whether or not that was true in the context of the 2013 case cited, it cannot have been intended even in that case as to be taken as a general definition of a term which clearly goes well beyond physicality. These quibbles too, however, will inevitably be addressed as the work expands in capacity and a broader range of authority is applied to each term, giving it a more nuanced range of meanings. This is clearly a work in its infancy, and all the more exciting to read for that reason. Without doubt, the entries included so far clearly achieve the author’s stated aim of supplying Nigerian lawyers and other readers with a national contextual basis for interpretation of expressions in law. I look forward with delighted anticipation to seeing this work flourish in later editions and become an even more indispensable part of the development of the rule of law in Nigeria. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Statute Law Review – Oxford University Press
Published: May 1, 2018
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