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CASES OF THE WEEK

LAND LAW: Customary land - Right to - Native customary right - Whether common law recognised pre-existing NCR to land in Sarawak - Whether such rights could only be removed by clear and unambiguous words in legislation - Whether existing laws and proclamations only prescribed what natives might claim thereunder but did not reject pre-existing NCR to land

NATIVE LAW AND CUSTOM: Land dispute - Customary rights over land - Whether common law recognised pre-existence of native customary rights to land in Sarawak - Whether such rights could only be removed by clear and unambiguous words in legislation - Whether existing laws and proclamations only prescribed what natives might claim thereunder but did not reject pre-existing NCR to land


DIRECTOR OF FOREST SARAWAK & ANOR v. TR SANDAH TABAU & ORS
COURT OF APPEAL, PUTRAJAYA
HISHAMUDIN MOHD YUNUS JCA; ABDUL WAHAB PATAIL JCA; BALIA YUSOF WAHI JCA
[CIVIL APPEAL NO: Q-01-463-2011]
12 SEPTEMBER 2013

The appeal in the instant case concerned whether Sarawak law recognised certain native customs of the Ibans with regard to land use as capable of giving rise to native customary rights (`NCR') to land. The respondents were Ibans and they claimed to have inherited NCR from their ancestors to a 5,639-hectare area. This area comprised 2,802 hectares of cleared and cultivated land and, adjoining it, about 2,712 hectares under primary forest. The appeal arose against a decision of the High Court granting the respondents, inter alia, a declaration that they had NCR and/or usufructuary rights over the lands in question. In the appeal, the appellants conceded that the respondents had NCR over the 2,802 hectares but rejected the contention that they had similar rights over the 2,712 hectares which was claimed to be maintained under the Iban native custom of pulau as a source of food, medicines, wildlife and other forest produce. While not disputing that such native customs as pemakai menoa and pulau existed, the appellants contended that the law in Sarawak only recognised the custom of temuda as capable of giving rise to NCR to land and not the customs of pemakai menoa and pulau which expressions could not be found in any of the orders of the Rajahs who ruled Sarawak or in the Land Ordinances or the Sarawak Land Code. Temuda denoted the native custom of clearing, occupying and cultivating an area and included burial grounds and longhouse sites; pulau referred to the custom of setting aside and maintaining an area under primary forest near the temuda from which the natives derived food and medicines, hunted for wildlife, had access to water catchment areas and obtained other forest produce, eg, timber for making boats. Pemakai menoa referred to the area demarcated by a native community (the territorial domain of a longhouse community) comprising both the temuda and the pulau. The appellants submitted that the orders and proclamations made by the Rajahs as well as the statutes did not recognise that uncultivated areas or forests which had not been felled for cultivation could give rise to NCR. The respondents said they inherited NCR to the claimed area from their ancestors who came to the area in the 1800s.

Held (dismissing appeal)

Per Abdul Wahab Patail JCA delivering the judgment of the court:

(1) In the absence of clear and unambiguous words in legislation to repeal or reject pre-existing NCR established under the pre-existing native custom, the common law applicable in Sarawak recognised the NCR inherited by the respondents from their ancestors who established their rights in the early 1800s over the 2,712 hectares set aside in their pemakai menoa under the native custom of pulau, and that right could not be taken away without compensation. (para 54)

(2) Recognition of the pre-existing NCR of the respondents' ancestors to the land in their pemakai menoa was inherent, for although the Brookes assumed sovereignty in 1841, at no time were the natives conquered and their lands and properties confiscated in war. There was a clear distinction between assumption of sovereignty and title to land. The sovereign right to title within the state was not absolute but subject to unconfiscated pre-existing rights. (para 52)

(3) The legislative and administrative orders, proclamations and statutes set out what natives could claim under those laws. If there was nothing in those laws that recognised the NCR to land, it was equally true there was nothing in clear and unambiguous language that rejected NCR to land eg, as to what was the status of NCR acquired before the arrival of the Brookes who held sovereignty between 1841 and 1946, British rule and the State of Sarawak in Malaysia. (paras 45 & 44)

(4) There was no reason to hold that the claim over the area of 2,712 hectares, as pulau, was not bona fide. It had been conceded by the appellants that the respondents had valid NCR to the 2,802-hectare area from occupation by their ancestors in the 1800s, it was thus safe to conclude that the pulau area adjoining it was likewise established in the 1800s by their ancestors. (paras 46 & 32)

Bahasa Malaysia Translation Of Headnotes

Rayuan dalam kes ini adalah berkenaan dengan perkara sama ada undang-undang Sarawak mengiktiraf adat anak negeri kaum Iban berkaitan dengan penggunaan tanah sebagai boleh memberikan hak adat anak negeri (`HAAN') terhadap tanah tersebut. Responden-responden adalah dari kaum Iban dan mereka menuntut bahawa mereka mewarisi HAAN daripada nenek moyang mereka bagi kawasan seluas 5,639 hektar. Kawasan ini merangkumi 2,802 hektar tanah yang telah dibersihkan dan dicucuk tanam dan bersebelahannya, kira-kira 2,712 hektar di bawah hutan asal. Rayuan ini berbangkit daripada keputusan Mahkamah Tinggi yang membenarkan responden-responden, antara lain, satu deklarasi bahawa mereka mempunyai HAAN dan/atau hak penggunaan terhadap tanah yang dipersoalkan. Dalam rayuan, perayu-perayu mengakui bahawa responden-responden mempunyai HAAN terhadap 2,802 hektar tetapi menolak hujahan bahawa mereka mempunyai hak yang serupa terhadap 2,712 hektar yang dikatakan dikekalkan di bawah hak anak negeri pulau kaum Iban sebagai sumber makanan, ubat-ubatan, hidupan liar dan hasil hutan lain. Walaupun tidak mempertikaikan kewujudan adat anak negeri sedemikian seperti pemakai menoa dan pulau, perayu-perayu menghujahkan bahawa undang-undang di Sarawak hanya mengiktiraf adat temuda sebagai boleh membangkitkan HAAN terhadap tanah dan bukan adat pemakai menoa dan pulau yang mana ungkapannya tidak ditemui dalam mana-mana perintah Rajah-Rajah yang memerintah Sarawak atau dalam Ordinan Tanah atau Kanun Tanah Sarawak. Temuda bermaksud adat anak negeri membersihkan, menduduki dan bercucuk tanam di satu kawasan dan termasuk tanah perkuburan dan kawasan-kawasan rumah panjang; pulau merujuk kepada adat yang memperuntukkan dan mengekalkan kawasan di bawah hutan asal berhampiran temuda yang darinya anak-anak negeri memperolehi makanan dan ubat-ubatan, memburu hidupan liar, mempunyai akses kepada kawasan tadahan air dan memperolehi hasil hutan yang lain, seperti balak untuk membuat perahu. Pemakai menoa merujuk kepada kawasan yang disempadankan oleh komuniti anak negeri (wilayah domain komuniti rumah panjang) yang termasuk kedua-dua temuda dan pulau. Perayu-perayu menghujahkan bahawa perintah-perintah dan pengisytiharan-pengisytiharan yang dibuat oleh Rajah-Rajah dan juga statut tidak mengiktiraf bahawa kawasan dan hutan-hutan yang tidak digunakan untuk bercucuk tanam yang tidak diterokai untuk bercucuk tanam boleh menjurus kepada HAAN. Responden-responden menyatakan bahawa mereka mewarisi HAAN kepada kawasan yang dituntut daripada nenek moyang mereka yang datang ke kawasan tersebut dalam tahun 1800an.

Diputuskan (menolak rayuan)

Oleh Abdul Wahab Patail HMR menyampaikan penghakiman mahkamah:

(1) Dalam ketiadaan peruntukan jelas dan tak taksa dalam perundangan untuk memansuhkan atau menolak HAAN yang telah wujud di bawah adat anak negeri yang lama, common law yang beraplikasi di Sarawak mengiktiraf HAAN yang diwarisi oleh responden-responden daripada nenek moyang mereka yang membentuk hak mereka pada awal 1800 terhadap 2,712 hektar yang diperuntukkan dalam pemakai menoa mereka di bawah adat anak negeri pulau, dan hak tersebut tidak boleh diambil tanpa pampasan.

(2) Pengiktirafan HAAN nenek moyang responden-responden yang telah lama wujud kepada tanah tersebut dalam pemakai menoa mereka adalah sedia ada, walaupun keluarga Brooke memegang pucuk pimpinan dalam tahun 1841, tidak ada pada bila-bila masa pun anak-anak negeri dijajah atau tanah-tanah mereka dan harta benda mereka dirampas dalam peperangan. Hak kedaulatan kepada hak milik dalam negeri bukanlah mutlak tetapi tertakluk kepda hak-hak tidak dirampas yang wujud sebelumnya.

(3) Perintah-perintah perundangan dan pentadbiran, perisytiharan-perisytiharan dan statut-statut menjelaskan apa yang anak negeri boleh tuntut di bawah undang-undang tersebut. Jika tidak ada apa-apa dalam undang-undang tersebut yang mengiktiraf HAAN kepada tanah, adalah juga benar bahawa tidak ada apa-apa peruntukan yang jelas dan tak taksa yang menolak HAAN terhadap tanah contohnya, status HAAN yang diperoleh sebelum ketibaan keluarga Brooke yang memegang kedaulatan di antara tahun 1841 dan 1946, undang-undang British dan Negeri Sarawak di Malaysia.

(4) Tidak ada alasan untuk memutuskan bahawa tuntutan terhadap kawasan 2,712 hektar sebagai pulau adalah tidak bona fide. Perayu-perayu telah mengakui bahawa responden-responden mempunyai HAAN yang sah kepada 2,802 hektar kawasan daripada pendudukan oleh nenek moyang mereka dalam 1800an dan dengan itu, adalah selamat untuk memutuskan bahawa kawasan pulau yang bersebelahannya adalah juga dibentuk dalam tahun 1800 oleh nenek moyang mereka.

Case(s) referred to:

Abang v. Saripah [1969] 1 LNS 2 CA (refd)

Abas Naun & 5 Ors v. Jangkar Plantation Sdn Bhd & 2 Ors [2009] 1 LNS 1105 HC (refd)

Agi Bungkong & Ors v. Ladang Sawit Bintulu Sdn Bhd & Ors [2010] 1 LNS 114 HC (refd)

Ago Siam v. Manggi Dato [2002] 1 LNS 46 HC (refd)

Ara Aman & Ors v. Superintendant of Lands and Mines 2nd Div [1973] 1 LNS 5 HC (refd)

Balare Jabu & Ors v. Merawa Sdn Bhd & Ors [2008] 1 LNS 879 HC (refd)

Bisi Jinggot v. Superintendent of Lands and Survey Kuching Division & Ors [2008] 5 CLJ 606 HC (refd)

Bisi Jinggot v. Superintendent of Lands and Surveys Kuching Division & Ors [2012] 1 LNS 260 CA (refd)

Galau & Ors v. Penghulu Imang & Ors [1966] 1 LNS 50 CA (refd)

Husli @ Husly Mok & 3 Ors v. Probate Officer, Miri [1995] 1 LNS 89 HC (refd)

Injing v. Tuah & Anor [1970] 1 LNS 39 CA (refd)

Jamboi Linggoh & Ors v. Wawasan Sedar Sdn Bhd & Ors [2012] 1 LNS 580 HC (refd)

James Jagah Nyadak & 12 Ors v. Usaha Jasamaju Sdn Bhd & 8 Ors [2009] 1 LNS 1094 HC (refd)

Jawi Landu v. Sunny Inspiration Sdn Bhd & Anor [2007] 9 CLJ 1 HC (refd)

Jok Jau Evong & Ors v. Marabong Lumber Sdn Bhd & Ors [1990] 2 CLJ 625; [1990] 2 CLJ (Rep) 169 HC (refd)

Laga v. Uging & Anor [1965] 1 LNS 77 HC (refd)

Luking Uding & Ors v. Superintendent of Lands and Survey Kota Samarahan Division & Ors [2011] 7 CLJ 342 HC (refd)

Mabo and Others v. Queensland (No. 2) [1992] 175 CLR 1 HCA (refd)

Masa Nangkai & Ors v. Lembaga Pembangunan dan Lindungan & Ors [2011] 1 LNS 145 HC (refd)

Mohamad Rambli Kawi v. Superintendant of Lands Kuching Div & Anor [2010] 1 LNS 115 HC (refd)

New Zealand Maori Council v. Attorney-General [1987] 1 NZLR 641 (refd)

Nicholas Mujah Ason & Ors v. Hock Tong Hin Sawmill Co Sdn Bhd & Ors [2012] 1 CLJ 749 HC (refd)

Nor Nyawai & Ors v. Borneo Pulp Plantation Sdn Bhd & Ors [2001] 2 CLJ 769 HC (refd)

Nor Nyawai & Ors v. Tatau Land Sdn Bhd & Ors [2012] 8 CLJ 956 HC (refd)

Novelpac-Puncakdana Plantation Sdn Bhd v. Anchih Buap & 4 Ors [2000] 1 LNS 75 HC (refd)

Numpang Suntai & Ors v. Quality Concrete Holdings Berhad & Ors [2012] 1 LNS 752 HC (refd)

Nyalong v. The Superintendent of Lands & Surveys Second Division, Simanggang [1967] 1 LNS 116 HC (refd)

Salleh Kilong v. Superintendent of Lands & Surveys & Anor [2000] 8 CLJ 538 HC (refd)

Siau Jun Phiang v. Awg Amir Awg Awin & 4 Ors [1999] 1 LNS 18 HC (refd)

Sop Plantations (Suai) Sdn Bhd v. Ading Layang & 5 Ors [2004] 1 LNS 331 HC (refd)

Subing Jamit @ Langan v. The Director Land & Surveys Sarawak & Anor [2001] 1 LNS 22 HC (refd)

Superintendent of Lands & Surveys, Bintulu v. Nor Nyawai & Ors and Another Appeal [2005] 3 CLJ 555 CA (refd)

Superintendent of Land & Surveys Miri Division & Anor v. Madeli Salleh [2007] 6 CLJ 509 FC (refd)

TR Lampoh Dana & Ors v. Government of Sarawak [2004] 1 LNS 717 HC (refd)

Usaha Wawasan Sdn Bhd v. Njop Kanyan & Ors [2011] 1 LNS 1644 HC (refd)

Legislation referred to:

Federal Constitution, arts. 74, 95B, 121(1B)(b), 160(2)

Fruit Trees Order 1899, ss. 1, 2

Land Code (Cap 81), s. 5(2)

Land Order No. VIII 1920, s. 22(1)

Land Settlement Ordinance 1933, s. 66

Native Court Ordinance 1955, ss. 3, 5

Supplement to Land Order No. VIII 1920, s. 2

Other source(s) referred to:

Dr Dimbab Ngidang, Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Native Customary Land Tenure in Sarawak, South Asian Studies, vol. 43, No. 1 of June 2005

Dr Dimbab Ngidang, Transformation of Iban Land Use System In Post Independence Sarawak, 2003, vol. 34, Borneo Research Bulletin

Counsel:

For the appellants - JC Fong (MC Willyn Joik with him); Senior Legal Counsel

For the respondents - Baru Bian (Siah Sy Gen (Simon) & Chua Kuan Ching with him); M/s Baru Bian Advocates

Watching brief for Kanowit Timber Sdn Bhd - Wee Wai Kiat

Reported by Ashok Kumar

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