KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — The Court of Appeal today decided that six gibbons seized by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) about two weeks ago should remain under the government department’s care for now, until the Federal Court’s final decision on the fate of the gibbons and the former wildlife ranger who was caring for them.
In late December 2020, Perhilitan had reportedly forcibly removed the six gibbons from former ranger Mariani Ramli’s Pahang-based Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GReP) centre, where the gibbons had been undergoing years of uninterrupted rehabilitation for preparation to be released back to the wild.
Amid public criticism, Perhilitan defended its raids from December 29 to December 31 on the gibbon rehabilitation centre by insisting that it was acting in line with the Court of Appeal’s November 2020 decision in its favour in a legal dispute between Perhilitan and Mariani.
Mariani and her lawyers had however pointed out that the legal dispute was far from settled and was still ongoing, as she was pursuing an appeal at the Federal Court and argued that it had been known that she would be filing an application to the Court of Appeal to stay or suspend the decision of the Court of Appeal until the Federal Court’s final decision on the dispute.
The Gibbon Conservation Society (GCS), where Mariani is president and which operates the gibbon rehabilitation centre, had previously clarified on January 11 that the Court of Appeal decision did not mention the removal of the gibbons from the GReP centre.
The GCS had highlighted that the Court of Appeal had in its November 16, 2020 decision disallowed an interim stay or temporary suspension of the Court of Appeal’s ruling in favour of Perhilitan, and had said that a formal application of stay of the Court of Appeal’s ruling should be filed at the Court of Appeal.
On December 14 — which was almost two weeks before Perhilitan’s raids on the gibbon rehabilitation centre — Mariani had filed her application for leave to appeal to the Federal Court, and Mariani had on the same day served all the related documents to the Attorney General’s Chambers.
On December 31, Mariani filed a formal application for stay of the Court of Appeal’s November 2020 decision in favour of Perhilitan.
According to Mariani’s lawyer Jessica Binwani, she had in the formal application for stay asked the Court of Appeal to grant court orders, including a stay on the Court of Appeal’s November 16 decision until the Federal Court decides on Mariani’s leave to appeal as well as the appeal if leave is granted.
Another court order that Mariani had sought as part of the stay application was for Perhilitan to return the six gibbons that she described as having been “seized illegally and without complying with the law” from the GReP rehabilitation centre for the gibbons in Raub, Pahang on December 29 and December 31, 2020.
Today was the Court of Appeal’s hearing of Mariani’s application for the stay of the Court of Appeal decision and for the six gibbons to be returned by Perhilitan.
Mariani’s lawyer Binwani said the three-member panel of judges at the Court of Appeal today unanimously decided that Mariani had failed to show the “special circumstances” required to justify a stay of the previous November decision.
Binwani highlighted the Court of Appeal’s taking into account of the gibbons’ welfare, now that they had been shifted by Perhilitan to Perhilitan’s Perak-based National Wildlife Rescue Centre (NWRC) facility.
“The court went on to state that, in this case, the immediate welfare of the primates was considered since they have been transferred to the NWRC, Sungkai, Perak on December 29 and 31.
“The court was of the view that the status quo should be maintained pending the disposal of the matter at the Federal Court. The Court of Appeal was of the opinion that since the decision of the Federal Court could go either way, the stay could not be granted.
“Mariani’s application for the stay of the Court of Appeal decision was dismissed with no order as to costs,” she said in a statement to Malay Mail.
The Court of Appeal panel today was headed by Justice Datuk Lau Bee Lan, while the two other judges on the panel were Datuk Ravinthran Paramaguru and Datuk Mohd Sofian Abd Razak.
Binwani said lawyers Theiva Lingam and R Ramitra also represented Mariani today, while senior federal counsel Rohaizah Hamzah represented five parties — the Disciplinary Board for the Support Group (No. 1) Perhilitan, the Public Services Disciplinary Appeal Board, the Public Services Commission, Perhilitan’s director-general and the natural resources and environment minister.
Holding watching brief today at the Court of Appeal hearing were lawyer Kwong Chiew Ee for GCS and the Friends of the Orang Utan (FOTO) and lawyer M S Kumaari for Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).
As for Mariani’s application for leave to appeal to the Federal Court which came up for case management today, Binwani said that it would come up for case management next on March 15.
The entire legal dispute had started on December 28, 2017 when Mariani had in her individual capacity filed a civil lawsuit through judicial review proceedings against the five.
In her lawsuit, she had sought to challenge three government decisions, namely the termination of her employment as a wildlife ranger, and the rejection of her appeal against her employment termination, as well as the cancellation of a permit by the Perhilitan director-general under Section 50 of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 for her to care for the six gibbons and a dusky leaf monkey.
The six gibbons are Daru, Daly, Betsy, Lola, Bella and Chantiq.
The High Court on July 10, 2019 decided in Mariani’s favour and set aside the three decisions she was challenging, and restored Mariani to her former job as a wildlife ranger with Perhilitan and ordered the government to pay back wages from October 2016 until her reinstatement date to be paid.
Following an appeal by Perhilitan and the four others, the Court of Appeal on November 16 allowed the appeal and set aside the High Court decision that had been in Mariani’s favour. This has then led to the current leave for appeal being pursued by Mariani at the Federal Court.