Pleadings are the backbone of every civil suit. It could be in Plaint or in a Written Statement
form. Amendment of pleadings means the alteration, modifications, and adjustment in the original pleadings by an application to the court. The principles guiding the amendment of pleadings in civil litigation are numerous to wit;

Principle of Fairness and Justice: the primary principle underlying the amendment of pleadings is to ensure fairness and justice for both parties. The court recognises that parties may need to revise or clarify their pleadings as the case progresses, and amendments are allowed to achieve a just determination of the dispute. The amendment to pleadings is ultimately to enable the court to decide the real issues in controversy between the parties. It is to prevent the court from giving judgment in ignorance of the facts that should be known before the rights of the parties are finally decided. Further, the amendment of pleadings relates to the original pleadings, and all amendments before the final amendments cease to be pleadings to be relied on in the trial. See, C.B.N v. Dinneh (2021) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1798) 91 at 127, paras A-C.

Reasonable Opportunity: The principle of reasonable opportunity requires that parties be given a reasonable opportunity to amend their pleadings. This means that amendments should be allowed at an early stage of the proceedings to avoid unnecessary delays and to provide the opposing party with sufficient time to respond and prepare their case. However, there may be limitations on amendments as the case progresses and approaches trial. Although by the rules of the court, an amendment to the pleadings can be made at any stage of the proceedings different considerations apply depending on whether the amendment is being sought before or after the close of evidence by the parties. But once the calling of evidence has been concluded, any amendment of the pleadings or claim can be justified or allowed only on the premise that evidence in support of it is already on record, so it is necessary and in the interest of justice to allow the amendment to make the pleadings or the claim accord with the evidence already on record to settle the real issue in controversy between the parties. See, Fagbule v. Rodrigues (2002) 7 NWLR (Pt. 765) 188.

Liberal Approach: Courts generally adopt a liberal approach towards allowing amendments to pleadings. The principle of liberal amendment allows parties to make necessary changes to their pleadings, including adding or removing claims, adding or removing parties, or altering the legal or factual basis of their case. This flexibility enables parties to present their case in its strongest form and ensures that justice is served. See, Oforishe v. N.G.C. Ltd. (2018) 2 NWLR (Pt.1602) 35.

Avoiding Prejudice: While the principle of liberal amendment allows parties to make changes to their pleadings, it should not unfairly prejudice the opposing party. The court will consider whether the proposed amendment would cause undue prejudice, such as causing delay, depriving the opposing party of a fair opportunity to respond, or causing an unfair disadvantage. See Okafor v. A.P.(Nig.) Ltd (1996) 5 NWLR (Pt. 451) 674.

Discretion of the Court: The court has discretion in allowing or disallowing amendments to pleadings. The court will consider factors such as the stage of the proceedings, the nature of the proposed amendment, the reasons for the amendment, the potential prejudice to the opposing party, and the interests of justice. The court will exercise its discretion to strike a balance between ensuring fairness and preventing abuse of the amendment process. Any amendment of pleadings in a case made or ordered at any stage of the proceedings before judgment or even made in an appeal dates back to the date when the pleadings were originally filed. This means that once pleadings are amended, what stood before the amendment is no longer material before the court and no longer defines the issues to be tried. However, an amendment dates back to the date when the document was originally filed. It is retrospective. See, Shuaibu v. Muazu (2014) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1409) 207. CA.
The Court of Appeal in Febson Fitness Centre v. Cappa H. Ltd (2015) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1455) 263 at 276, paras E-F, held;
An amendment of pleadings takes effect not from the date when the amendment was made but from the date of the original pleadings that was amended. Therefore, once an amendment is allowed, the amended pleadings is deemed to relate back to the date of the original pleadings which it amended.

In summary, an amendment is more readily granted when the same does not necessitate the calling of additional evidence or the changing of the character of the case. Thus, it cannot be overemphasised that it is necessary and in the interest of justice to allow an amendment to make the pleadings or claim accord to the evidence already on record but in considering whether or not to grant an amendment, the court must always be guided by;
(a)the materiality of the amendment sought;
(b)the rules of audi alteram partem; and
(c)the genuineness of the amendment.

LEGAL TIPS is anchored by Ms CIA Ofoegbunam, an Abuja-based lawyer who is passionate about legal practice. LEGAL TIPS offers quick hints on substantive law, as well as rules of practice and procedure, and serves as a handy reference guide to lawyers, especially in court. Published on a weekly basis, the LEGAL TIPS Series is CIA’s modest contribution to legal development in Nigeria.

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