Impact from proposed amendments to Malaysia’s Syariah Courts Act – Report


| Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 13 Mar 2017 | Asia Samachar |

The proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, a Malaysian piece of legislation known as Act 355, is said to be a prelude to introducing hudud law.

This is despite that the amendments proposed by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang had been repeatedly watered down since it was first introduced, and that proponents claimed that its purpose is to strengthen the syariah courts rather than having anything to do with hudud, reports MalaysiaKini.

These were some of the views shared at a MCA-organised forum on issue in Kuala Lumpur last week.

Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) vice-president Jagir Singh, who is the current president of the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC), was one of the panelists.

“This is a very slippery slope. I’d agree that the intentions are good, but you will not be there to implement it,” he was quoted in the report. “If the law allows, it will be used.”

Jagir was responding to fellow panelist Malaysian Syariah Lawyers Association deputy president Moeis Basri also assured that non-Muslims have nothing to fear because the Federal Constitution protects them from syariah laws, while Muslims would also have nothing to fear if they had committed no crime.

Act 355 imposes a limit on the maximum punishment that can be meted out by the syariah courts. The current limit is three years’ imprisonment, RM5,000 fine, and six strokes of the cane, the report noted.

Hadi’s private member’s bill seeks to increase this to 30 years’ jail, RM100,000 fine, and 100 strokes of the cane. The bill is now seventh on the Parliament’s order paper at the current sitting, which will last until April 6.

This version of the bill was introduced last November. An earlier version on April 7, 2015 sought to remove all limits, and on June 17, 2015, another version was introduced that would allow syariah courts to impose any punishment except the death penalty.

Putrajaya MCA Youth chief Kevin Koo, wbo was another panelist, described the current version of the amendment as a compromise that would allow Hadi to take ‘one step back, two steps forward’ in introducing hudud law.

“It is very normal for people to want to be better than the previous generation. We want to say that we are better than what our father was. We want to say that we have progressed.

“But if you want to make Act 355 the benchmark of that progress, then what gets measured will get managed. If you focus on one thing, and that is the penalties, then you will focus on how to increase the penalties.

“There are so many other things to measure. There is for example the maximum (number of) terms our prime minister has – that is one thing that we have not measured. In the US, the president has to step down after two terms,” he said, according to the MalaysiaKini report.

Koo, a lawyer, suggested that Act 355’s statutory limits should be in the Federal Constitution, which can only be amended with a two-third majority of MPs, rather than in its current form as an act of parliament than can be amended by a simple majority.

It would also give the law the same stature as other provisions in the Federal Constitution, he said.

On this, Moeis argued that just because the limits on the penalties are being raised, it does not mean it would be adopted by the legislatures of all states. Even then, the syariah courts would have the discretion of determining the actual punishment to be meted out, and that is rarely the maximum penalty allowed, the report said.

He said the Act 355 amendment bill is merely ‘a simple proposal’ to enhance the Syariah Court’s powers but has gained unnecessary limelight.

In addition, Act 355 was last amended in 1984. The civil courts at the time could impose fines up to RM5,000, but that limit had since been increased to RM100,000.

“Perhaps the economic situation then is different from what it is now. The law must be felt.

“(At the current limit) of RM5,000 people tend to ridicule the Syariah Court, that ‘never mind, we can commit any syariah offence because the maximum is only RM5,000’.

“So the law is not felt. It does not serve the purpose of the existence of the law itself,” said the lawyer, who practices in both syariah and civil courts, as quoted by the same report.


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