New fight in a case that started in 1974 over a strip of land

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

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

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 to Grange Road via an 800 sq m strip of land owned by Lee Tat's predecessor. Their access was recognised then by the Court of Appeal, and remained for 34 years.

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

But Grange Heights pursued the case again, leading to a fifth case in 2010. Now, the sixth is under way.

This time, land owners Lee Tat have filed suit against Grange Heights for the alleged wrongful use of the land.

Lee Tat, represented by Senior Counsel C. R. Rajah and lawyer Ernest Balasubramaniam, 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, based on loss of rental, possible sale and development of the land together with two adjacent units it owned, among other things.

Lee Tat added that 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 close to Orchard Road.

Grange Heights, defended by Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng and lawyers Sngeeta Rai and Jocelyn Ngiam, urged 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 the Court of Appeal reversed the access, 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, when Justice Choo Han Teck rejected a move by Grange Heights to strike out the suit, he remarked: "If there is such a thing as an indomitable spirit of litigation, it is exemplified in this action."

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