Magistrates Lack Power to Freeze Bank Accounts – Court

 An Abuja Federal High Court has ruled that magistrate courts lacked the power to issue an order freezing bank accounts. 

According to Punch, the court also ordered banks to desist from acting on “bankers order” served on them, particularly by the police, to freeze or place a post-no-debit order accounts on personal accounts. 

Justice Inyang Ekwo made the declaration in a judgment in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1635/2019 on Tuesday. The suit was instituted by five children of the late Chief E. A. Esiso against one of their siblings, Yoma Esiso, four banks which had frozen their bank accounts, the Inspector-General of Police and the Commissioner of Police in charge of the IGP Monitoring Unit.

 The five siblings who were the plaintiffs who instituted the suit are Mrs Eunice Oddiri, Beauty Ogbodu, Chief Sunny Esiso, Edirin Esiso, and Mrs Emuobosa Consin.

They stated in their suit that in September 2019 one of the landed assets of their late father in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, was sold and the proceeds were shared among the deceased’s children, including Yoma. Yoma was said to have petitioned the police after which his five siblings were arrested and detained. 

The plaintiffs were later released on bail but realised that their accounts had been frozen by their various banks which claimed to have received letters authorising them to so do from the office of the Inspector General of Police and the Commissioner of the Police in charge of the IGP Monitoring Unit. 

The banks said the letters from the IGP office were accompanied with a document called a Bankers Order from a magistrates’ court, ordering the freezing/post no debit on the accounts. The plaintiffs on December 24, 2019 sued their banks – Zenith Bank Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank, Guarantee Trust Bank and First Bank Place – along with the IGP, the IGP Monitoring Unit, and Yoma.

 They contend among others in their suit that that the order to freeze/post-no-debit obtained from the magistrate’s court and placed on their accounts on the strength of a non-existent law was illegal null and void. Only GTB filed processes in response to the suit, while the rest of the defendants did not. But in his judgment, Justice Ekwo ruled that GTB failed to effectively controvert the case of the plaintiffs as he held that there was no existing Nigerian law or relevant foreign law empowering magistrates to make such an order for freezing of persons’ accounts. 

He therefore declared that “the Bankers Order/Order freezing and/or enabling the post-no-debit” on the listed accounts of the plaintiffs “cannot be validly issued pursuant to a non-existent/repealed Bankers Order Act 1847 and any other irrelevant foreign law”. The judge also ruled that “a Magistrate lacks the powers to make Bankers orders and/or order freezing or enabling a post no debit on bank accounts pursuant to non-existent/repealed section 7 of the Banker‘s Order Act 1847.” 

The judge therefore ordered the four banks “to unfreeze the accounts of the plaintiffs and desist from further giving effect to the non-existent Bankers order served on the prompting of the 5th and 6th defendants (IGP and the IGP Monitoring Unit).”

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