In a 10 million naira lawsuit filed by a Nigerian lawyer, Ogedi Ogu against the University of Oxford, England, the Lagos State High Court in Igbosere has dismissed the preliminary objection filed by the University to challenge the suit.
Ogu, in his suit before Justice I.O. Harrison, alleged that the words “mortgagee’’ and “mortgagor” were wrongly defined in the Oxford Dictionary, published by Oxford University Press.
He claimed that his reliance on the definitions of these words in the Oxford Dictionary to offer legal advice to his professional colleague, caused him to suffer embarrassment and loss of reputation as a lawyer. He further contended that after his colleague pointed the error in definition, all his other professional colleagues stopped seeking legal advice from him.
He therefore urged the court to order a payment of ₦10m by The University of Oxford and Oxford University Press in damages.
Appearing as counsel for the defence, Mrs Funke Adekoya (SAN) however filed a preliminary objection, urging the court to dismiss the suit for being incompetent.
Adekoya contended on grounds that Ogu did not comply with Section 97 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act in issuing and serving his writ of summons. She described the writ as “incurably defective,” adding that it was “liable to be set aside.”
The SAN further contended that Oxford University Press, which was joined as 2nd defendant, was a non-juristic entity, which could not be sued because it was only a department under the University of Oxford.
The presiding judge, Justice Harrison in her ruling on June 30, 2020 however partly disagreed with Adekoya and dismissed a part of the preliminary objection. Contrary to Adekoya’s contention, Justice Harrison decided that “The writ was validly issued and service was lawful and regular.”
On the other hand, the judge upheld the submission of the defence that Oxford University Press was not a juristic entity and struck its name out from the suit.
The judge held, “The court finds that not being a juristic person, the 2nd defendant can’t be sued and since they are a department of the 1st defendant, whatever affects the 1st defendant will naturally affect and bind on their departments. The notice of preliminary objection succeeds partially.”
Ogu, in his suit had claimed that Oxford Dictionary wrongly defined the word “mortgagee’’ as the borrower in a mortgage transaction; and “mortgagor’’ as the lender.
He said this was contrary to the definition of “mortgagee” as lender and “mortgagor” as borrower in many other dictionaries.
The Nigerian lawyer said when he wrote to the University of Oxford to complain, the university admitted the error but refused to admit liability.
According to him, the university issued a disclaimer stating that: “Our dictionaries are made available as a reference tool only; they are never held out by OUP as being an alternative to seeking independent legal or financial advice, and we cannot take responsibility for an individual’s decision to use them as such.”