KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — A developer is pursuing a group of Bukit Gasing residents over a judicial review they sought over its project, claiming damages in an extraordinary move observers fear will intimidate private citizens from objecting against government agencies.
Although Gasing Meridian Sdn Bhd is now free to conduct its development after defeating the judicial review filed against it and the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), it is adamant on claiming damages from the 103 residents who sought to block the hillside project in their neighbourhood here.
According to civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan, the developer’s claim will set a precedent that will make it onerous for private individuals who turn to the courts after exhausting other official avenues to challenge public decisions.
“I am personally very concerned if the developer is allowed to claim damages against the residents from the judicial review application.
“This is a matter within the realm of public interest and the fear is that if the developer succeeds in its application this would discourage concerned citizens from seeking redress with the courts in the future,” he told Malay Mail Online.
The Bukit Gasing residents’ challenge against the developer dates back to 2008, when the group filed for a judicial review to compel DBKL to hold a public hearing over its decision to grant a development order to Gasing Meridian for a hillside project in 2007.
They claimed DBKL did not provide adequate notice of the development or hold a public hearing before it granted the order.
The application was rejected by the High Court and was appealed all the way to the Federal Court in 2013, where it was also ultimately dismissed.
The apex court added a twist to the case when the judges deemed fit to award RM10,000 in costs to both DBKL and Gasing Meridian as well as undetermined damages to the latter, which it sent back for the High Court to decide.
Following another round of appeals against the order for damages, the matter is now back before the Federal Court once more.
“Public hearing is an avenue for the public to actually have their concerns aired and for responses to be made to those concerns,” Bukit Gasing resident Ashok Menon told Malay Mail Online.
“By saying that you can end up having to pay damages for that, that's like muscling up everyone. That's what happens in a dictatorship,” Ashok said, adding that it was unclear why the developer was awarded damages.
Bukit Gasing assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran echoed both men’s concerns, adding that the dispute had been between the residents and DBKL, rather than business-related.
“I feel it’s not right. Just because a group of residents file a judicial review, a third party such as the developer should not be taking legal action to financially penalise the residents, who were bringing up a matter of public interest, and not commercial in nature.”
Not all are against the Federal Court’s decision to allow Gasing Meridian a claim to damages from the residents. Property lawyer Chris Tan explained that such a move would help to prevent the public from pursuing frivolous action against corporations.
He also disagreed that the particular case would set a precedent that would make it burdensome for private individuals with valid complaints to seek legal action against government entities.
“The precedent is not set to aim at the parties asking for public hearing for them to pay for damages, but to prevent the public from being against others without proper grounds, and facts of the case vary from each other,” he explained.
“Any successful party is entitled to damages... provided they can prove the same to the presiding judge. Therefore it is fair in that sense,” Tan said.
The Federal Court was initially scheduled to hear the residents’ appeal against the order for damages, but the case has since been postponed to June 29.