Power of Assessor in Land Valuation
If you have a piece of land registered under your name, beware! The state can actually acquire the land from you. However, the state must first adequately compensate you if they were to acquire your land. This process of acquiring your land is lengthy and we will need to explain it to you in another article itself.
Today, we will only be discussing only the end product. Assuming that the acquisition process is completed, the Land Administrator of the state will award or give you compensation for the land the state acquired from you. However, if you are dissatisfied with the amount awarded (provided that the amount is not less than RM3,000.00), you can actually voice your dissatisfaction and your grievances to the High Court.
This is where the land assessors come into the picture. If you appeal the decision to the High Court, the court will appoint two assessors to determine the amount that should be awarded to you. This effectively upstages the power that was once thought to be held exclusively by a judge in court.
Can such a law stand? How did we come to this?
A brief history of the powers of an assessor
In the early days, land assessors can only advise and assist the judge on technical issues in regards to the land acquisition process. They can still give an opinion on the amount of compensation that should be awarded to the landowner, but the decision of the judge will still prevail, regardless of whether there is a conflicting opinion between the judge and the assessors.
Then, in 1984, the role and powers of assessors were completely removed when the act was amended by the parliament. However, in 1997, their powers were once again restored by the parliament. This time, the land assessors were even given even wider powers than before- the opinion of the assessors is final and the court must adopt the opinion of the assessors in relation to the award.
The aftermath of the 1997 amendment
The court struck back in Semenyih Jaya Sdn Bhd v Pentadbir Tanah Daerah Hulu Langat & Another Case. In the case, the Federal Court struck sections of the legislation that gave the land assessors the powers to determine the amount of award instead of the court.
The court held that:
- Only a judge or court personnel has the power to make a decision on behalf of the court. No one else should have the power to act on behalf of the court. This is to ensure that:
- The court can function independently and arrive at a decision without interference or influence from other governmental bodies; and
- Each body of the government does not overstep their roles and take on the role of the other governmental bodies.
- Even if a governmental body is allowed to perform a judicial role, its powers are limited and confined to certain judicial functions of the courts and not the decision-making function of the court.
Ultimately, the court held that a judge is appointed and have their powers conferred to them by the Federal Constitution. To allow other persons or governmental bodies to make a decision on behalf of the court and treat the decision as a final and conclusive would be usurping the powers of a judge and rendering them redundant altogether.
Can the law stand? The aftermath of the decision
The court said no. However, at the conclusion of the trial, the court pointed out that:
- Even though the relevant section was struck out, it could not apply the decision to cases that have already been decided before this case. This decision only has a retrospective effect i.e. it can only bind new and pending cases that are currently being heard by a court;
- A new section should be put into place to replace what was struck out by the court (the court did not strike out other section in relation to the powers of assessors); and
- The court suggested that the powers of the assessors should be confined to what was originally expressed by the legislation in its early days i.e. the land assessors can only give an opinion and only a judge can determine the amount of compensation awarded to a landowner.
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