'Right of way' dispute back in court - for sixth time

Land owner seeks damages from Grange Heights, claims lost opportunity cost of $32m

A landmark case that began 42 years ago and went through five courts of appeal is still unfolding.

The owners of Grange Heights condominium must now face off against a bid by adjacent land owner Lee Tat Development for damages in their longstanding row over a right of way to Grange Road.

The tussle - one of the longest-running sagas in Singapore's legal history - began in the High Court before Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh last week and is due to resume tomorrow.

In 1974, residents of Grange Heights first fought for the right of way across the 883 sq m strip of land owned by Lee Tat's predecessor. Their access was recognised then by the Court of Appeal.

Several more actions followed until a Court of Appeal in 2008 ruled that they no longer had right of way through the path as the area had changed and access to the main road was no more an issue.

The 2008 decision was a landmark as it showed the Court of Appeal could reopen civil cases it had heard and decided on before.



The owners of Grange Heights condominium must now face off against a bid by adjacent land owner Lee Tat Development for damages in their longstanding row over a right of way to Grange Road. PHOTO: GRANGE HEIGHTS 

But Grange Heights pursued the matter again, leading to a fifth case in 2010. Now, the sixth is under way. This time, Lee Tat has filed suit for the alleged wrongful use of the land until 2008. Represented by Senior Counsel C. R. Rajah and lawyer Ernest Balasubramaniam, it seeks damages for the trespass, abuse of the court process and malicious prosecution by Grange Heights. It said decades of litigation meant the land in subject remained frozen, causing Lee Tat to suffer a heavy loss in opportunity cost which an expert had placed at $32,207,415.

Lee Tat said not getting the land back earlier had also cost it some $31 million paid in property tax and legal and consultant fees.

The Grange Road area is a high-end residential site near Orchard Road.

Grange Heights, defended by Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng and lawyers Sngeeta Rai and Jocelyn Ngiam, urged that the claims be thrown out, describing Lee Tat's bid as "clutching at straws" to get a windfall through this court action.

They noted there were a total of 11 judicial pronouncements in the High Court and Court of Appeal that affirmed the residents' right of way until December 2008, when access was reversed, after which they stopped using the road.

The plaintiffs could not apply that decision retroactively, they argued. Grange Heights also accused Lee Tat of starting this action because it had the financial muscle to do so.

In January last year, in rejecting a move by Grange Heights to strike out the suit, Justice Choo Han Teck remarked: "If there is such a thing as an indomitable spirit of litigation, it is exemplified in this action."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2016, with the headline ''Right of way' dispute back in court - for sixth time'. Print Edition | Subscribe