Landmark ruling

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IN a landmark ruling, a Malaysian logging company has been ordered to pay $3.2 million to landowners in Isabel for trespass, nuisance and damages it caused to the environment.

Solomon Islands Court of Appeal made the order this week when it dismissed an appeal Mas Solo Investment Limited lodged against an earlier High Court decision.

In October 2017, landowners of Galatha, Momotu and Riusisi in the Hograno area filed a case against Mas Solo in the High Court seeking damages from the logging company.

After a hearing, Justice John Keniapisia ordered Mas Solo to pay $3.2 million (plus interest) in damages to the communities.

Justice Keniapisia said this was for the harm caused to the peoples’ livelihood through the logger’s failure to adhere to its statutory duty not to intrude into buffer zones on a customary land the communities reside, live and occupy.

Mas Solo appealed the ruling, claiming the judge erred in law and in fact in awarding $3.2 million as damages for injury caused to the land and environment.

The company further argued such an amount has no basis in law and/or is unreasonably excessive in the circumstances of the case.

But in their ruling, the Court of Appeal judges dismissed the appeal and upheld Justice Keniapisia’s ruling.

They said:

“We consider and agree with the learned trial judge’s findings that the claim was not about ownership over Bobokana customary land area.

“The claim was about ‘residents of the three villages of Bobokana area, complaining about damage caused to their livelihood/environment by Mas Solo’s negligent operation.

“We agree with the learned trial judge that the landowners have standing to raise the complaints about the harm caused to their environment.

“Negligence actions have also considerable applicability to environmental harm as a result of development projects and industrial activities.

“In many of these situations, an action based on trespass or strict liability is available.”

The Court of Appeal dismissed submissions from Mas Solo that Justice Keniapisia has acted on a wrong principle of law and misapprehended the facts or, for other reasons, made a wholly erroneous estimate of the damage suffered.

“We, therefore, accept the trial judge’s conclusion that landowners have proved their case and they are entitled to an award of damages in the sum of $3.2 million based on the expert’s report which was prepared after an inspection of the land.”

Private lawyer James Apaniai appeared for Mas Solo, while Andrew Radcllyffe represented the landowners.