Lawyer sues Oxford University over wrong dictionary definitions


A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Ogedi Ogu, has filed a further statement on oath before a Lagos High Court Igbosere, in a suit against Oxford University Press, over alleged wrong words definition in its dictionaries.

Joined in the suit as the first defendant is the University of Oxford while Oxford University Press is sued as the second defendant.

Ogu, counsel representing a claimant, Mr Emmanuel Ofoegbu, had filed the suit in 2018, urging the court to direct Oxford University Press to ensure that all dictionaries published by them, include a caveat which states that:

“The dictionaries are made available as a reference tool only, and that anyone who relies on the definition of words in their dictionaries as an alternative to seeking independent legal advice, does so at his own risk.”

In his statement of claim, the claimant had told the court that he purchased the Oxford Mini Reference Dictionary, and the Oxford English Mini Dictionary, and had relied on the dictionaries in advising his client on the words “Mortgagee” and “Mortgagor”,

He said that in the dictionaries, the word “Mortgagee’’ is defined as the Borrower in a Mortgage transaction, while “Mortgagor’’ is defined as the Lender.

According to him, his professional colleagues subsequently drew his attention to the correct position in many other dictionaries apart from Oxford, which defines the word “Mortgagee” to be the Lender and “Mortgagor” to be the borrower.

He said that he was thoroughly embarrassed and has since then suffered damages including loss of his professional esteem, as his colleagues had stopped asking for his opinion or advice on any legal issue.

But, Oxford in its statement of defense, deposed to by one Hannah Turner, averred that the Oxford Mini dictionaries are published as general reference tools and not designed or held out as dictionaries for legal terms for use by legal practitioners.

Besides, Oxford averred that its dictionaries undergo updates, adding that the edition which the claimant alleged it relied on, had already been through several updates resulting in new editions like sixth, seventh and eighth editions published in 2004, 2007, and 2013 respectively.

It said that in all these editions of the Oxford Mini dictionaries listed, the definition of the word “Mortgagor” is the borrower in a Mortgage, while the “Mortgagee” is the lender.

Meanwhile, in his further statement on oath in response to the defense, the claimant avers that he had relied on the definitions of the words in the two oxford dictionaries he purchased, and had already suffered damages before he received a letter on Nov. 30, 2016, stating that the Oxford dictionaries were only reference tools.

He avers that prior to this letter, he was not aware or put on notice by any means whatsoever, that the dictionaries were for reference tools only, adding that their letter was a reply to his solicitor’s letter informing oxford of the damage he had suffered in relying on their dictionaries

He avers that the words Mortgagee and Mortgagor are both English words and do not have distinct legal meanings different from their ordinary meaning, adding that in Nigeria, persons learned in law do rely on dictionaries for a definition of words and also rely on such definitions even in judicial proceedings.

The claimant avers that the defendant was negligent and did not exercise due care and diligence in the definition of words.

He avers that the defendant has now admitted in paragraph 17(9) of its statement of defense, that the words Mortgagee and Mortgagor have been defined differently in subsequent editions of its dictionaries.

The claimant insists that the defendant owes a duty of care to him because users of dictionaries are not bound or required to be purchasing every edition of the dictionary.

He said that the words in the front and back covers of the dictionaries, holding them out as being authoritative sources of English, were what influenced him and weighed heavily in his mind to consult and use them.

The claimant, therefore, avers that the definition of the words Mortgagee and Mortgagor as defined in the Oxford Mini reference dictionary fifth edition published in 1999, are not their definitions in the sixth, seventh, and eighth editions.

The suit was originally pending before Justice Ibironke Harrison who has now been transferred from the civil to the criminal division of the court.

A new date is yet to be fixed for the case.

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