S'wak natives lose landmark NRC land case

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The Federal Court has dismissed a crucial appeal by five native customary rights landowners, a decision which will adversely affect more than 100 similar cases. 

The three-member panel of judges led by outgoing Chief Justice Zaki Azmi made a unanimous decision to dismiss the case, brought by Bato Bagi and five others.

Bato, along with five others, are suing the state government over the loss of their lands to the Bakun dam project.

This is also Justice Zaki's last judgment. He steps down on Monday, after reaching the retirement age of 66.

Two other judges on the panel are chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum and Federal Court judge Md Raus Sharif.

Bato, whose name is now synomous with the case, was unable to hear the judgment today, as he died two months ago.

On April 26, 2008, the High Court in Sarawak dismissed the natives’ claim. The Court of Appeal subsequently upheld the High Court's decision last year.

On March 1 this year, the Federal Court granted leave for the appeal to be heard , leading to today’s decision.

        

Meanwhile, in a separate but related case, another Iban, Jalang Paran, is suing the government and a state-owned company that took over his village's land for a pulp mill project.

They are arguing that the state's acquisition of their NCR land - as provided for under the Land Code - violated their fundamental rights under the federal constitution.

LIVE REPORTS:

2.15pm: Some of the long house residents arrive at the court.

2.20pm: Lead counsel Sulaiman Abdullah arrives.

2.25pm: Baru Bian arrives and says a prayer in Bahasa Malaysia outside court, wishing for a ruling in favour of his clients because it would benefit other natives in Sarawak.

2.47pm: Justice Zaki says this is the most difficult judgment that he has ever written. It is a lengthy judgment.

He then allows Justice Richard Malanjum to read his judgment first.

3.07pm: Justice Malanjum says he dismisses the appeal, and notes that compensation had been paid.

3.08pm: Justice Md Raus says there is no need for a re-trial. He says the land seizure is not unconstitutional.       

3.10pm: Now it's Zaki's turn. He says that the issues were not properly ventilated before the court.

3.11pm: He associates his decision with Justice Malanjum and he also dismisses the appeal.

Zaki says it is unfair to make a decision without ventilating on the issues. He makes no orders to cost.

3.14pm: Sulaiman applies for no order to costs with the court. However, Sarawak legal adviser JC Foong objects.

3.17pm: Zaki decides to make no order as to costs to the court below.

Sulaiman wishes happy retirement to Zaki.

[More to follow]

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