BusinessLegal/Judiciary

Illegal account freezing: N10.2m damages slammed against Polaris Bank

By Francis IWUCHUKWU

Polaris Bank Plc has been directed to pay a sum to the tune of N10.2 million as compensatory damages to a businessman, Jyde Adelakun, for breach of his fundamental right to privacy under Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution.

The order was issued by a Lagos division of the Court of Appeal sitting in Igbosere, Nigeria.

The Appellate Court, presided over by Justice Joseph Shagbaor Ikyegh in its judgment held that Polaris Bank breached the confidential obligation a bank owes its customer in the operation of his account.

The Court of Appeal also declared that Polaris Bank, unilaterally blocking the accounts of the appellants without a court order was illegal and unconstitutional.

It would be recalled that Adelakun and his company had challenged the decision of a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria, which dismissed their originating application for the enforcement of their fundamental rights to a fair hearing, ownership of moveable property and respect for the dignity of the first appellant (Adelakun).

The appellant had also sought an order of perpetual injunction compelling the Bank to immediately unfreeze all the appellants’ bank accounts.

In his lead judgment, Justice Ikyegh held that Polaris Bank breached the appellants’ fundamental right to privacy under Section 37 of the 1999 constitution when it disclosed the account details of the appellants without the appellants’ express or implied permission.

‘’There is merit in the appeal, as it affects the 3rd respondent (Polaris Bank), who should have been found liable by the court below for unilaterally blocking or freezing the accounts of the appellants on a lien, and without a court order thus infringing the appellants’ fundamental right to the enjoyment of movable property under Section 44(1) of the 1999 Constitution, and for breach of the 1st appellant’s fundamental right to privacy of their bank accounts under Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution.

‘’I would allow the appeal of the appellants and set aside the decision of the court below concerning the third respondent only. I am not sure the categorization of damages under the label of general, special, exemplary and punitive damages is appropriate in the breach of a fundamental right.

“I think it is compensation that should be awarded in such circumstances, compensation in terms of remedy entails making amends at large and in appreciable measure for loss sustained which is on a higher pedestal than damages ordinarily available in a civil action.

‘’Accordingly, I hereby award N5 million compensatory damages to the appellants for breach of the first appellant’s right to the enjoyment of movable property by the third respondent under Section 44(1) of the 1999 Constitution, and against the 3rd respondent.

‘’Similarly, I make the same compensatory award of N5 million in favour of the first appellant against the third respondent for breach of the 1st appellant’s fundamental right to privacy under Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution, which brings the total award to N10 million in favour of the first appellant against the third respondent. The third respondent shall pay 200, 000.00 as a cost to the appellants. Appeal allowed in part accordingly.”

But the Court of Appeal dismissed all the appellants’ claims against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and its Chairman.

Meanwhile, Polaris Bank has filed an appeal against the judgment at the Supreme Court.

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