A Lagos-based attorney, Mr. Ogedi Ogu, filed a new affidavit under oath before an Igbosere of the Lagos High Court, in a lawsuit against Oxford University Press, for allegedly incorrect definitions of words in their dictionaries.
Oxford University joined the lawsuit as the first defendant, while Oxford University Press is being sued as the second defendant.
Ogu, a lawyer representing a plaintiff, Emmanuel Ofoegbu, filed the lawsuit in 2018, urging the court to order Oxford University Press to ensure that all dictionaries published by them include a caveat stating that:
“Dictionaries are available only as a reference tool, and anyone who relies on the definition of words in their dictionaries as an alternative to seeking independent legal advice does so at their own risk.”
In his statement of claim, the plaintiff had told the court that he had purchased the Oxford Mini Reference Dictionary and the Oxford English Mini Dictionary, and had relied on the dictionaries to advise his client on the words “Mortgagee” and “Mortgagor”.
He said that in dictionaries, the word “Mortgage” “is defined as the Borrower in a mortgage transaction, while” Debtor “is defined as the Lender.
According to him, his professional colleagues subsequently drew his attention to the correct position in many other dictionaries besides Oxford, which defines the word “mortgage” as the lender and “debtor” as the borrower.
He said he was deeply ashamed and has since suffered damages, including loss of professional esteem, as his colleagues had stopped asking for his opinion or advice on any legal matter.
But Oxford in its defense statement, before which Hannah Turner, asserted that the Oxford Mini dictionaries are published as general reference tools and are not designed or presented as dictionaries of legal terms for use by legal professionals.
In addition, Oxford claimed that its dictionaries are undergoing updates, adding that the edition that the plaintiff claims it relied on had already undergone several updates resulting in new editions such as the sixth, seventh and eighth editions published in 2004, 2007 and 2013 respectively.
He said that in all of these editions of the Oxford Mini dictionaries listed, the definition of the word “debtor” is the borrower on a mortgage, while the “creditor” is the lender.
Meanwhile, in his subsequent affidavit under oath in response to the defense, the plaintiff claims that he had relied on the definitions of the words in the two Oxford dictionaries he purchased and that he had already suffered damage prior to receiving a letter on 30 November. 2016, stating that the Oxford dictionaries were just reference tools.
He claims that prior to this letter, he was unaware or notified in any way that the dictionaries were for reference tools only, adding that his letter was a response to his attorney’s letter informing Oxford of the damage that had occurred. suffered in relying on their dictionaries
He states that the words Mortgagee and Mortgagor are both English words and have no legal meanings other than their ordinary meaning, adding that in Nigeria, people with legal knowledge rely on dictionaries for the definition of words and also rely on in such definitions even in judicial processes.
The plaintiff claims that the defendant was negligent and did not exercise due care and diligence in defining the words.
It states that the defendant has now admitted, in section 9, section 17, of its defense, that the words Mortgage creditor and Mortgage creditor have been defined differently in later editions of their dictionaries.
The plaintiff insists that the defendant has a duty to care for him because dictionary users are neither obligated nor obliged to purchase all editions of the dictionary.
He said that the words on the front and back covers of dictionaries, considering them authoritative sources of English, were what influenced him and weighed heavily on his mind to consult and use them.
The plaintiff, therefore, asserts that the definition of the words Mortgage and Mortgagee as defined in the fifth edition of the Oxford Mini Reference Dictionary published in 1999, are not his definitions in the sixth, seventh and eighth editions.
The lawsuit was originally pending before Judge Ibironke Harrison, who has now been transferred from the civil to the criminal division of the court.
A new date has not yet been set for the case.