My colleagues and I welcome the suggestion by Tan Sri Richard Malanjum that a Native Land Tribunal be set up in Sabah and we call for the same to be set up in Sarawak. The statements made by Tan Sri Richard at the Symposium on Sabah Native Land Rights at Universiti Malaysia Sabah fortify the views expressed by us in our Media Release dated 16 January 2012 in which we expressed our support for the call by the Bar Council for a specialized Indigenous People’s Court to be established.
Whether it is called the Indigenous People’s Court or the Native Land Tribunal, the important thing is that this forum should provide an appropriate process to investigate land claims brought by the natives of the land. As pointed out by Tan Sri Richard, there are certain limitations to having such cases heard in Civil courts, such as the requirement of strict compliance with the Evidence Act, unfamiliarity of judges with native adat and culture, and lack of judges.
This proposed Tribunal or Court should comprise of qualified individuals preferably standing on par with High Court judges. Of utmost importance is that they must be well-versed in the adat, customs and culture of the people. They must be given the power to hear cases which involve non-natives, unlike the current Native Court which does not have such power. Their remedial power must be equivalent to the High Court’s to grant injunctions and unlimited award and damages, which again is restricted in the current Native Court.
The composition, ambit and procedure of the proposed Native Tribunal or Indigenous People’s Court are open for debate and discussion. What is clear is that there is a pressing need for this specialized tribunal or court given the recent calls by various parties for its establishment. It is our hope that the Chief Justice will heed the calls and initiate steps to carry out the proposal.
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