KUCHING: The Federal Court’s decision on native customary rights (NCR) claims by the Iban community could have been different if it had comprised a judge from Sarawak or Sabah during its earlier hearing.

Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) Public Complaints Bureau chief Wilfred Yap pointed out that the natives of Sabah and Sarawak have different customs and cultures which are alien to people from Malaya.

Wilfred Yap.

He said the Federal Court’s recent decision to not review its earlier judgement that the native custom has no force of law in Sarawak was a disappointment to the Iban community.

“I am in agreement with the dissenting judgment of Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri David Wong Dak Wah, which allowed the review applications and ordered the appeals to be reheard before another panel of judges – one of whom must be a judge with Borneo judicial experience,” Yap told New Sarawak Tribune yesterday.

However, he added that he fully respected the majority decision of the Federal Court even though the decision did not determine whether “pulau galau” (forest reserves) and “pemakai menoa” (territorial domain) have force of law.

Yap was commenting on the Federal Court’s ruling on Wednesday (September 11) which upheld an earlier court decision not to grant rights to claimants from two villages in Sarawak over their NCR land.

In a 4-1 majority decision by a five-member bench, the Federal Court held that there was no basis for a new panel of the Federal Court to review the earlier decision of the court.

Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Azahar Mohamed and Federal Court judges Datuk Alizatul Khair Osman Khairuddin, Tan Sri Idrus Harun and Datuk Mohd Zawawi Salleh decided the majority decision while Wong dissented.