Court rules in favour of Ibans in another landmark NCR case

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The Kuching High Court has ruled in favour of Ibans from a village in Samarahan, Sarawak in another landmark native customary rights case, reports Brimas.

On 21 February, the Kuching High Court delivered its judgment in favour of the plaintiffs, who are the Ibans from Kampung Merekai or Rumah Luang of Sungai Merekai, Batang Krang, Simunjan/Serian, Samarahan Division in another historic native customary rights (NCR) case.

The Court ruled that the Plaintiffs have NCR over the land and that the Provisional Lease (PL) described as Lot 2979 Melikin Land District, which is jointly held by Nirwana Muhibbah Sdn. Bhd. and the Land Custody Development Authority (LCDA) who are the third and fourth defendants respectively, be declared as null and void.

Justice Datuk Linton Albert in delivering his judgment held that the Ibans have established their NCR over the subject land and that their NCR was never extinguished by any legislation or executive action.

The Court found that the PL issued to Nirwana Muhibbah and LCDA in so far as it covers or includes or impairs the plaintiffs’ rights over the said native customary land was null and void as it violated the plaintiffs’ rights enshrined under Article 13 (1) of the Federal Constitution and Section 15 (1) of the Sarawak Land Code Cap. 81. It ordered that that the provisional lease be rectified to exclude the plaintiffs’ native customary land.

The Court further held that the third and fourth defendants were trespassing into the land.

The Senior Assistant Registrar will assess the damages suffered by the Plaintiffs.

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The Plaintiffs in this class action suit were represented by Luking Anak Uding, Simah Anak Empaling, Bari Anak Barien and Nyambar Anak Suwat. The Superintendent of Lands and Surveys Kota Samarahan Division and the Government of the State of Sarawak were the first and second defendants respectively.

The land dispute between the plaintiffs and the third and fourth defendants began some time in 2001. Unknown to the plaintiffs, some time in October 2000, the first defendant issued a PL for Lot 2979 Melikin Land District to the third and fourth Defendants for a term of 60 years.

Numerous letters were written to the authorities and police reports lodged against the trespass by the third and fourth defendants. However, no action was taken against the third and fourth defendants.

On 30 March 2002, the plaintiffs decided to file their class action suit at the Kuching High Court and trial started in March 2008.

Harrison Ngau Laing represented the plaintiffs while State Legal Counsel Yap Khan Kee represented the first and second defendants. Norida Anak Aipek and Ivan Hussein represented the third and fourth defendants respectively.

Mark Bujang is executive director of Brimas

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