SLS gets nod for judicial review

Sabah state’s constitutional rights to receive 40% of its special grant revenue

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Law Society (SLS) has been allowed to proceed with a judicial review on the state’s constitutional rights to receive 40% of its special grant revenue.

In dismissing an appeal by the federal Attorney-General against a lower court’s decision to grant leave for a judicial review to the SLS, a three-member Court of Appeal panel decided that the SLS had the locus standi for the judicial review.

Justice Datuk Ravinthran Paramuguru said the main issues raised by the Senior Federal Counsel (SFC) lacked merit given the factual and legal matrix of this unprecedented judicial review application.

“We unanimously dismiss the appeal. If this matter is not taken up further by the appellant, we direct the High Court to fix a date for the full hearing of the judicial review application,” he said via Zoom yesterday.

He gave no order as to costs, seeing that this is a public interest case.

Prior to handing out the decision, Ravinthran said the SLS had, at the very least, established a threshold locus standi.

He said the instant judicial review application was clearly a public interest litigation meant for the benefit of a section of the public, and not taken to seek redress for a personal wrong or grievance of the SLS.

“It is taken to purportedly vindicate a constitutional right accorded to Sabah and therefore by extension, for the benefit of the people of Sabah.”

Whether there was merit in the application or not, he said that it was a matter that should be addressed in the full hearing.

Ravinthran said it would be a retrograde step to shut out SLS from voicing the issue on the grounds of locus standi.

On the SFC’s issue about justiciability of the case, Ravinthran said the Court of Appeal is not persuaded by their arguments that the matter of the judicial review application is not justiciable.

The case revolves around Kota Kinabalu High Court’s decision to grant SLS the right (locus standi) to apply for judicial review against both the federal and Sabah governments in the lawsuit, which seeks to compel the return of 40% of federal revenue earned from Sabah.

On Nov 11, 2022, Justice Ismail Brahim granted SLS application for leave for the judicial review. The judge ruled that SLS had the locus standi to do so as it was a public interest litigation.

Justice Ismail also found that the SLS case concerned a breach of constitutional duty to pay the 40% entitlement for the “Lost Years” (1974-2021).

It seeks to declare that the new 2022 order agreed to by the Sabah government is unconstitutional and to compel both the federal and state governments to hold another review to include the 40% special grant paid to Sabah.

The Attorney-General at federal level was represented by SFCs Shamsul Bolhassan, Ahmad Hanir Hambaly @ Arwi and Krishna Priya Veenagopal @ Venugopal.

SLS was represented by David Fung Yin Kee, Jeyan Marimuttu and Janice Junie Lim.

Counsel Datuk Nor Asiah Mohd Yusof (Sabah Attorney-General) and Datuk Brenndon Keith Soh represented the state government.

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