Court dismisses Semantan Estate judicial review to re-acquire Duta land

Court dismisses Semantan Estate judicial review to re-acquire Duta land
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KUALA LUMPUR (Oct 27): The High Court on Wednesday dismissed an application by Semantan Estate (1952) Sdn Bhd to re-acquire a 106.7ha land in the city known as the Duta enclave.

Justice Datuk Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid delivered the decision via email.

“The application for judicial review in enclosure 17 is dismissed. There shall be no order as to costs,” the judge said, without providing grounds for the decision.

Senior federal counsel S Narkunavathy, who appeared for the federal government, the Federal Territories minister, the federal land commissioner, the director-general of the Land and Mines Department, the director of the Federal Territory Land and Mines Department, the Federal Court Land registrar and the natural resources and environment minister, confirmed the decision when contacted by The Edge.

Semantan Estate was represented by counsel Ira Biswas, who also confirmed the decision to The Edge.

Justice Ahmad Kamal heard submissions on the judicial review application on Aug 23, but reserved decision until Wednesday.

The Federal Court had previously dismissed the government’s appeal related to this long-standing land dispute.

It had ruled that the government had trespassed on the land when it acquired it in 1960 for a price of RM1.32 million under the then Land Acquisition Enactment for the purpose of developing a diplomatic (duta) enclave.

As the name suggests, the land which now houses, among others, the Tun Razak Hockey Stadium, the Inland Revenue Board office and the National Archives was supposed to be developed as a new area for diplomats and embassies.

History of the legal dispute

The tussle between Semantan Estate and the government had dragged on for more than 50 years for a number of reasons, including issues between the two families that started Semantan Estate and mistakes and delays caused by the Collector of Land Revenue.

It was reported that Semantan Estate first went to court in 1960 to seek legal remedy for the then RM1.32 million compensation that the Collector of Land Revenue had paid for the land.

The Edge Malaysia Weekly in its July 1-7, 2013 edition reported that Semantan Estate in 1989 sued the government for "trespassing" on the grounds that it had taken possession of the land unlawfully.

Although the government initially succeeded in getting the High Court to strike out the suit, Semantan Estate went all the way to the then Supreme Court, which ruled in its favour and allowed the suit to proceed.

But it was close to 20 years before the trespassing case was finally heard and decided by the High Court, and on March 31, 2010, the High Court declared that the government had not taken the land lawfully and "hence has remained in unlawful possession of the said land".

The High Court also ordered the government to pay "mesne profits" — any profit accrued during a dispute over land ownership — as damages to Semantan Estate and that the Registrar of the High Court assess the amount, according to the report.

The Attorney-General, who represented the government, appealed the High Court's decision but lost in the Court of Appeal in May 2012, and finally, the highest court in the land — the Federal Court — upheld the High Court's decision in November 2012.

Subsequently, on Nov 22, 2018, the Federal Court, led by Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, dismissed the Malaysian government's application to review the November 2012 decision.

Semantan Estate filed the judicial review application in 2017, after the apex court decision because it wanted the ownership of the disputed 106.7ha land along Jalan Duta in Kuala Lumpur to be officially transferred to the company.

Likely appeal, says counsel

Semantan Estate counsel Ira said she would take instructions from her client on their next course of action.

“But we do expect that our client will appeal against the decision,” she told The Edge via email.

On May 13, 2019, the High Court had granted leave (permission) to hear the merits to Semantan's judicial review application.

It had sought leave for an order of mandamus to compel the respondents to transfer and cause to be transferred the land in Mukim Batu to Semantan Estate free of encumbrances and liabilities, execute and cause to execute to effect the transfer of the land, and issue and cause to issue the document title of the land to Semantan Estate.

The company also sought leave for the preparation, change, cancellation, deletion, correction or amendment of the registrar document of the title and register proprietorship of the said land to Semantan Estates, returning and making arrangements in respect of returning and handing over the possession of the land to Semantan Estates, which is recognised as the lawful proprietor and owner of the land.

Prior to the judicial review being heard, Kenari Maluri Sdn Bhd which purports to represent the majority of the shareholders had successfully applied to intervene in an alleged bid to resolve the matter.

While it was allowed to intervene in the High Court, the Court of Appeal allowed Semantan Estate’s appeal on the grounds that it is not a proper party to be allowed to intervene.

Kenari Maluri however had last month withdrew its application for leave to appeal before the Federal Court.

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