Hornbill Unleashed

September 8, 2011

Federal Court to deliver landmark decision on NCR


The Federal Court is to deliver a key decision this afternoon on whether the seizure of native land owned by five longhouse residents to make way for the Bakun dam project 14 years ago is constitutional.

A lot is riding on this case – referred to as the Bato Bagi case – as it will set the precedent for other native customary rights land claims in Sarawak. There over 100 pending claims by natives in the state.

This will also be the last judgment delivered by Chief Justice Zaki Azmi, who will step down on Monday after reaching the retirement age of 66.

He leads a three-member panel that also consists of chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum and Federal Court judge Md Raus Sharif.

Bato unfortunately cannot hear the judgment today, for 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 theappeal to be heard, leading to today’s decision.

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

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.


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.

Now he allows Justice Richard Malanjum to read his judgment first.

3.07pm: Justice Malanjum says he dismisses the appeal although he noted 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 Zaki says that the issues were not properly ventilated before the court.

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

He 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 advisor JC Foong objects.

3.17pm: After Zaki pleads to JC Foong, he concedes to make no order as to costs to the court below.

Sulaiman wishes happy retirement to Zaki.

[More to follow]


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