18 Jan Republic v. High Court (Labour Court 1), Accra Ex Parte: A&C Development Company Limited & 3 Others, Civil Appeal No. J5/63/2022, delivered on 26th July, 2022 (Supreme Court)
“Section 98 of Act 1036 refers only to disputes that arise in the course of the process of registration of title or interest in land falling within a registration district. The section is not meant to affect the well-established and long-standing jurisdiction of the regular courts in land disputes even if the land falls within a registration district.”
A&C Development Company Limited (“the Applicant”) had been joined to a suit that was pending in the High Court for alleged acts of trespass to the workplace of Gladys Forson Aboagye (“the Plaintiff”). The Plaintiff sought, among others, to recover possession of the land from the Applicant.
The Applicant filed a motion to strike out the action on grounds that the action could not be commenced in the High Court at first instance. The Applicant relied on Section 98 of the Land Act, 2020 (Act 1036), arguing that disputes affecting lands in registrable areas cannot be litigated in court until the dispute resolution procedures under the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Act, 2010 (Act 798) have been exhausted.
The High Court, however, dismissed the motion and the Applicant applied to the Supreme Court for an order of certiorari to quash the decision of the High Court on grounds that the High Court exceeded its jurisdiction by not complying with section 98 of the Land Act.
The issue for determination by the Supreme Court was whether section 98 of the Land Act bars a party from commencing an action in court in respect of land within a registrable area.
The Supreme Court held that section 98 is not a novel provision as it mirrors section 12(1) of the repealed Land Title Registration Act, 1986 (PNDCL 152). The Supreme Court explained that the only difference between the provisions is that section 98 of the Land Act makes specific reference to resolving disputes under the ADR Act.
The Supreme Court referred to the case of Boyefio v NTHC [1997-98] 1 GLR 768, where the defendant claimed that section 12(1) of PNDCL 152 ousted the jurisdiction of regular courts in land disputes. The decision in Boyefio was to the effect that the restriction imposed by section 12(1) of PNDCL 152 was solely on actions relating to disputes arising in the course of the registration of title to land and interests.
The Supreme Court, therefore, stated that it is misconceived to suggest that the declaration of an area as a registration district gives the adjudicating committee of the Land Title Registry, the automatic jurisdiction to entertain claims of proprietors of lands or interest in land within the registration district to the exclusion of the courts.
The Supreme Court relied on the canon of interpretation that where a statutory provision has received judicial interpretation and the lawmaker repeats that provision in a subsequent enactment, then the lawmaker intends the meaning ascribed to the provision by the judicial interpretation unless qualifying words were introduced in the later provision or the court is convinced that the earlier interpretation was not sound. Thus, since there are no qualifying words in section 98 of Act 1036, which portray the intention of parliament to change the existing law on litigation in land disputes, section 98 cannot be construed as ousting the jurisdiction of the regular courts in land disputes in registration districts.
Insight: The jurisdiction of the regular courts is not ousted by section 98 of the Land Act. The provision refers only to disputes that arise in the course of the process of registration of title or interest in land falling within a registration district. Thus, an action concerning land disputes can be commenced in a regular court without recourse to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act, 2010 (Act 798).
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AUTHOR: ADJOA OWUSU-MINTAH (2023 Trainee Legal Associate)