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State owns disputed Twifo-Hemang land - High Court

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson
Samuel Abu Jinapor — Minister of Lands and Natural Resources
Samuel Abu Jinapor — Minister of Lands and Natural Resources

The Cape Coast High Court has nullified the transfer of a large parcel of state land at Twifo-Hemang in the Central Region by the government in 2009 to the Ellis and Wood families, former owners of the land before it was compulsorily acquired by the state.

In a judgment dated June 13, this year, the court held that the government transferred the land under a non-existing law and, therefore, the deed of transfer signed by then President John Agyekum Kufuor was invalid.

However, it held that the Twifo-Hemang Stool, which was battling the government and the Ellis and Wood families for possession of the land, should not interfere with the land because it had no interest in it.

Rather, the court, presided over by Justice Emmanuel Atsu Lodoh, held that since the said transfer by the government was invalid, the land still remained the property of the state.

“This, therefore, means that the disputed land remains vested in the Republic of Ghana, since the acquisition instrument remains valid,” Justice Lodoh held.

Consequential orders

Consequently, the court ordered the plaintiff — Nana Amoa Sasraku IV, the Paramount Chief of Twifo-Hemang, or anybody acting on his behalf — not to set foot on the land for the sake of peace and security.

“It is further ordered that the plaintiff, successors in title, agents, assigns or any other person or entity deriving its authority from the plaintiff is equally hereby restrained from interfering with the disputed land,” the court held.

Again, after declaring as invalid the transfer of the land by the government to the Ellis and Wood families, it prohibited the Lands Commission from registering the land on behalf of the families.

“The Regional Lands Commission, Central Region, is hereby restrained from registering any document prepared pursuant to the deed of transfer dated 6th January, 2009 and signed by President Kufuor to the Ellis and Wood families or any other law,” Justice Lodoh ordered.

Background

Court documents revealed that the disputed land was acquired in 1896 by the Ellis and Wood families from the Twifo-Hemang Stool.

In 1992, per the Hemang Lands (Acquisition and Compensation Act), 1992 PNDCL 294, the government compulsorily acquired the land from the Ellis and Wood families.

Per the court documents, on January 5, 2009, by a deed of transfer signed by the then President Kufuor, the government reverted the land back to the Ellis and Wood families.

Suit

On February 3, 2014, the then Paramount Chief of Twifo-Hemang, Nana Amoa Sasraku III (he was later substituted as plaintiff by Nana Amoa Sasraku IV), initiated a legal action to stop the Ellis and Wood families from registering their interests in the land.

It was the case of the plaintiff that the deed of transfer signed by President Kufuor was inconsistent with PNDCL 294, the law the government used to compulsorily acquire the land.

Again, the plaintiff contended that following a petition by his predecessor, the government had compensated the Ellis and Wood families and passed various laws to revert the land to the Twifo-Hemang Stool.

The case was against the Lands Commission and the Attorney-General. In 2018, the Ellis and Wood families were joined as the other defendant following an application.

Court’s decision

In its judgment, the court held that evidence on record showed that the land, indeed, belonged to the Ellis and Wood families before the government compulsorily acquired it.

It held that there was no evidence that the state had any intention or purported to transfer the land to the Twifo-Hemang Stool after the payment of the compensation to the Ellis and Wood families.

According to the court, what was not in dispute was the fact that the government had, on January 6, 2009, transferred the land back to the Ellis and Wood families.

Again, it established that although the government had compulsorily acquired the land, in line with PNDCL 294, the reversion of the land back to the Ellis and Wood families was rather done in accordance with the Confiscated Assets (Removal of Doubt) Law, 1993 (PNDCL 325).

It was the considered view of the court that as of 2009 when the government transferred the land back to the Ellis and Wood families, PNDCL 325 was no longer in existence, as it had been repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act, 1997 (Act 543).

The net effect of the repeal of PNDCL 325, it held, was that the deed of transfer signed by then President Kufuor was based on a non-existing law and, therefore, null and void.

“I, therefore, find from the evidence available to the court that the deed of transfer executed by the President of the Republic of Ghana in 2009 is invalid, having been effected under repealed legislation which could not be used to transfer disputed land to the 4th defendant (the Ellis and Wood families), same will be accordingly set aside,” Justice Lodoh held.

Accordingly, although the court ruled in favour of the plaintiff that the transfer by the government to the Ellis and Wood families was invalid, it did not establish any interest in the land for the Twifo-Hemang Stool and rather declared the land as the property of the state.

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