$30m squatter's row goes to High Court
A company that lost more than $30 million worth of land to an 84-year-old squatter has asked the High Court to help get it back, after an attempt to get the Department of Justice to strike out two sections of the Limitations Ordinance was rejected.
In an application for Judicial Review filed on Wednesday, Harvest Good Development, controlled by Henderson Land chairman Lee Shau-kee, asked the court to help overturn the laws that led to its loss of five plots of land covering about 11,000 square metres in the hills behind Tai Po.
The company is challenging a decision by the secretary for justice not to repeal the sections of the ordinance.
The new application claims the law violates two articles of the Basic Law. Article 6 states that the government 'shall protect the right of private ownership of property in accordance with law', while 105 enshrines the principal that due compensation be paid to those lawfully deprived of their property.
The Limitation Ordinance states that if a person can prove they have possessed a piece of land for more than 20 continuous years without entering into any kind of agreement with the leaseholder, ownership passes to them.
'[The ordinance provisions] have the effect of a deprivation of private property without compensation,' the writ said.
'While Articles 6 and 105 envisage lawful deprivation of private property, a deprivation of private property is not lawful merely because [it] is made by virtue of a legislative provision.'
In January, the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) ruled that Wong Yam-tai, 84, and her daughter, Chan Suk-yin, had spent enough time on the land to undo any title Mr Lee, who acquired the properties with two friends in 1961, might once have claimed over it.
Ms Wong's family moved on to the plots in 1951. Mr Lee initiated moves to claim it back in 1993.
The court ruled that an extension to New Territories crown leases legislated in 1988 did not create new leases, but merely extended the arrangement already in place by 50 years. As a result, the clock did not start ticking again on the 20-year limit.
At the time, Harvest Good indicated it would mount a constitutional challenge to the laws underpinning the CFA's decision.
This latest writ was filed the same day a court deadline for the company to submit a statement of claim over the land expired without Harvest Good delivering the document.