Prima facie Case: Meaning
The latin words “Prima facie” means “at first sight” or “based on first impression”.
Merriam-Webster, defines prima facie to mean “at first view or on the first appearance” as is legally sufficientsufficient to establish a fact or a case unless disapproved.
According to wiki, the term prima facie is used in modern legal English (including both Civil and Criminal law) to signify that upon initial examination, sufficient corroborating evidence appears to exist to support a case.
Prima facie case means that from the onset, or at first look, it appears that a case has been established against the Defendant.
In other words, from the face of the case, “there is enough evidence for there to be a case to answer”
Prima facie case in Criminal Cases
The issue of prima facie depends on justice system of a country. In Countries where trials are conducted on information, prima facie case has two meaning:
- The first relates to sufficient evidence disclosed from the onset, that allows the prosecution to prefer an information. This takes place exparte in chambers.
- The other sense it relates to sufficiency of evidence led by the prosecution to require the defence to lead evidence in rebuttal of the evidence of the prosecution. In the absence of evidence rebutting the evidence of the prosecution, the evidence of the prosecution can sufficiently secure the conviction of an accused person. See Abru v State(2011) 17 NWLR(Pt. 1275) P.1
Is Prima facie the same thing with Standard of Proof?
The word “prima facie case” does not mean the same thing as burden of proof required in criminal cases.
In criminal cases, the burden of proof lies on the Prosecution. The Prosecution has the burden of establishing the guilt of an accused person by cogent and compelling evidence.
The burden of proof includes the burden of proving the essential elements of an offence and the standard of proof in this regard is proof beyond the reasonable doubts.
The Court in the case of Ajuluchukwu v State(2014) 13 NWLR (Pt. 1425)P.641 noted:
“The latin words “Prima facie” means at first sight. It means that there is ground for proceeding with the trial but it is not the same as Proof which comes later when the trial Court has to find whether the accused is guilty or not”
Thus, while burden of proof is required when the trial has ended, a prima facie case is established at first sight even before the Defendant opens his defence.
In other words, it is at the end of criminal prosecution that the court will determine whether the burden of proof placed on the Prosecution has been discharged or not.
Where prima facie case is not made out against the Defendant.
The usual practice is that at the end of the Prosecution’s case, if prima facie case has not been made out against the Defendant, the accused person will enter a no case submission.
If the no case submission is upheld, the charge will be struck out and accused person will not be required to enter defence.
Where a prima facie case was not established, it means that the presumption of innocence placed on the accused person has not been rebutted. In such instance, the accused person can enter succeffully, a no case submission.
Where an accused person enters a no case submission, such must be upheld and the accused person will be discharged and acquitted.
It is needless to require an accused person to put a defence when no prima facie case has been made out against the accused person.
This is because, the prosecution cannot rely on the weakness of the Defendant’s case to secure his conviction.
It is always expected that the High degree of certainty beyond reasonable doubt be established by the prosecution.
Where a Prima facie case is disclosed
If from the evidence of the prosecution, a Prima facie case has been sufficiently disclosed, the Defendant will be required to enter his defence. A no case submission by the Defendant will be dismissed.
In other words, where the evidence of the prosecution point mathematically to the accused person as the person behind the crime committed or that he was involevd or connected in any form, a Prima facie case has been disclosed.
The Accused person will be required to enter his defence against the prima facie case and rebutt same.
It is not in the interest of society to allow an accused person go on punished.
Prima facie case in Civil Cases
In Civil suit, the plaintiff must disclose sufficient evidence before the court, showing the injury or wrong done to him by the Defendant.
The nature of Civil suit determine the the standard of evidence required to establish a prima facie case.
In the case of discrimination arising in the course of employment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
For a plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination against the Defendant, the plaintiff mustvprove the following:
- They were a member of a protected class;
- They suffered an adverse
- They met their employer’s legitimate expectations at the time of the adverse employment action, and
- They were treated differently from similarly situated employees outside their protected class
In the same way, for plaintiff to succeed in the case of negligence, the plaintiff must make out a prima facie case of negligence to wit:
- That there was a legal duty owned to the plaintiff by the Defendant.
- There was a breach of Legal duty owed to the Plaintiff by the Defendant by reason of failure to exercise care within the scope of his duty.
- The consequential damage or injury resulting from the breach, caused to the Plaintiff.
In establishing prima facie case, the evidence presented by the plaintiff must be sufficient enough, that in the absence of defence, the plaintiff would be entitled to Judgement of court.
Once the plaintiff has made out a prima facie case against the Defendant, the Defendant is expected to put up a defence.
In puting up a defence, the Defendant is expected to call witnesses to testify in his favour. The evidence of the Defendant must be sufficient to rebutt the prima facie case made out by the plaintiff.
Again, in some jurisdiction where the Defendant may have Counter claim, it is the duty of the counter claimant to establish a prima facie case against the plaintiff as to be entitled to the judgement of court.
This is because, Counter claim is an independent or separate suit and can exist even where a claim has been struck out.
Where Prima facie Case is most Used
Prima facie case is most effective in application for summary judgment. In some jurisdiction like Nigeria, the plaintiff may bring application for summary judgment in court where the action is for liquidated money demand, and the plaintiff reasonably believes that the Defendant has no defence to his suit.
In this instance, upon application for summary judgment being served on the Defendant, the Defendant is expected to file notice of his intention to defend the suit. The notice of intention to defend the suit will be accompanied by affidavit and written address.
Where from the affidavit evidence of the parties, the Defendant has not disclosed sufficient facts as to persuade the court that he has defence on the merit, the court will enter Judegment in favour of the Plaintiff.
Again where the Defendant fails to file notice of intention to Defendant, and the plaintiff has established a prima facie case of indebtedness of the Defendant to the Plaintiff, the court will enter summary judgment in favour of the plaintiff as per his claim.
Is Prima facie the same thing as Res ipsa Loquitor?
Meaning of res ipsa Loquitor
The triplet latin words “Res ipsa Loquitor” means the thing speaks for itself”. It could also mean “the fact speaks for itself”.
WHEN DOES RES IPSA LOQUITUR APPLIES.
The maxim res ipsa Loquitor applies mostly in tort of negligence, where the fact as presented by the plaintiff, in an action raises an inference of negligence on the part of the Defendant.
See the case of JWAN V ECOBANK (NIG) PLC(2021) 10 NWLR (PT.1785) P.458.
The Plea of Res ipsa by the Plaintiff is meant to raise an inference of negligence on the part of the Defendant in view of the circumstances of the case.
When the Doctrine is applied, it shift the burden of proof to the Defendant to establish how the incident complained of would have applied without his fault.
The plaintiff is entitled to Judgement of court unless the Defendant rebutts the inference that it was his negligent that occasion the injury suffered by the plaintiff to who he knows duty of care
Though Res ipsa Loquitor and Prima facie looks alike, both are not same
As noted by wiki, the difference between the two is that prima facie is a term meaning there is enough evidence for there to be a case to answer. The evidence though, is not a conclusive proof that Defendant is liable.
while Res ipsa loquitur means that the facts are so obvious a party and does not need to be explained anymore. The facts is so conclusive of the inference drawn from it.