PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal has ruled in a landmark judgment that the Government has no right under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) to claim for damage to public property.
Yesterday, judge Justice Rohana Yusuf held that Section 6(2) of the Act, which outlined the responsibilities of the assembly organiser, did not give the Government a right to civil claims.
“We also find that Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act does not entitle the Government to sue for negligence or claim for damages under common law,” said Justice Rohana, who chaired a three-man panel.
Others on the Bench were Court of Appeal judges Justices Varghese George Varughese and Mary Lim Thiam Suan.
“We have no reason to intervene with the findings of the trial judge who found that the appellant had failed to prove its case of negligence against the respondents based on evidence before him,” Justice Rohana said in reading out their unanimous decision.
On Jan 30 last year, the Government lost its claim against the Bersih 2.0 steering committee for damage to public property during the Bersih 3 rally held on April 28, 2012.
This was the first time the Government filed a civil suit against a rally organiser under the PAA.
In an immediate response, former Bersih 2.0 co-chairman Datuk S. Ambiga, one of the respondents named in the suit, said yesterday: “I think it is a landmark judgment whether a suit can be brought under the PAA.”
Ambiga and 14 fellow committee members were named as defendants by the Government in its bid to claim for damage to public property during the 2012 rally.
At the High Court, the Government failed to get a declaration that the steering committee, as the rally organiser, had violated Section 6(2)(g) of the PAA, which states that the organiser has a responsibility to ensure the assembly will not endanger health or cause damage to property.
High Court judge Justice John Louis O’Hara said it was not shown to the satisfaction of the court that the damage was actually caused by legitimate participants of the rally or by independent agents.
However, the appellate court allowed in part the prosecution’s appeal, over a counter claim by committee member Dr Wong Chin Huat.
Justice O’Hara had also ordered the Government to pay Dr Wong RM21,000 in damages over his counter-claim for assault, breach of his constitutional right, unlawful arrest and detention as well as the manner in which he was arrested.
Justice Rohana held there was no case of unlawful arrest but Dr Wong had succeeded in proving the assault and suffering, and awarded him RM15,000 in damages.
In the statement of claim filed on May 15, 2012, the Government claimed that the rally resulted in damage to public property including police vehicles.
It also sought for RM110,543 in special damages to repair the vehicles.