Sunday, January 12, 2014

Religion and the law

The Sunday Star
Legally Speaking by Roger Tan



The Jais raid on the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia has put into focus the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of SelangorThe Jais raid on the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia has put into focus the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor.

THE Jan 2 raid by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) on the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), in which 331 copies of Malay and Iban Bibles were seized, has brought to national attention a piece of state legislation hitherto unknown to many Malaysians – the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor (Selangor Enactment).

So far, Jais has argued they were empowered to do so under Section 9 (1) of the Selangor Enactment, which prohibits any non-Muslim to use in writing or speech any of 25 words or any of their derivatives and variations, as stated in Part 1 of the Schedule, pertaining to a non-Islamic religion.

The 25 words are Allah, Firman Allah, Ulama, Hadith, Ibadah, Kaabah, Kadi, Ilahi, Wahyu, Mubaligh, Syariah, Qiblat, Haj, Mufti, Rasul, Iman, Dakwah, Injil, Salat, Khalifah, Wali, Fatwa, Imam, Nabi andSheikh.

Section 9 (2) also prohibits a non-Muslim to use 10 expressions of Islamic origin set out in Part II of the Schedule, including Alhamdulillah and Insyallah.

Non-Muslims can, however, use the words and expressions by way of quotation or reference.

Jais contended that Section 9 (1) had been contravened because the Malay and Iban Bibles contain the word “Allah”. Further, they were entitled to arrest without warrant the BSM chairman, lawyer Lee Min Choon, and manager Sinclair Wong as section 11 provides that all offences and cases under the Selangor Enactment are deemed to be seizable offences and cases under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), that is, offenders of seizable offences can be arrested without any warrant of arrest.

A fortiori, as this is a law passed by a state legislature, it has the force of law and quite rightly it can, therefore, override the 10-point solution decided by the Federal Cabinet and communicated via the Prime Minister’s letter dated April 11, 2011 to the Christian Federation of Malaysia.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Freedom from hate speech


The Sunday Star
Legally Speaking by Roger Tan

The debate currently raging in Australia about amending or repealing section 18C of its Racial Discrimination Act, 1975 is rather interesting.

DURING the recent election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis had pledged to repeal section 18C.

It all started after journalist Richard Bolt was found to have contravened the RDA in two of his articles written in 2009 and published in The Herald Sun and on its online site, titled “White fellas in the black” and “White is the new black”.

As reported in the case of Eatock v Bolt, 2011, Eatock had complained that Bolt’s two articles had conveyed offensive messages about her and people like her (that is high profile and fair-skinned Aboriginal people) in that they were not genuinely Aboriginal and were pretending to be Aboriginal so they could avail to the benefits meant for Aboriginal people.

Justice Bromberg ruled that the defences and exemptions allowed under section 18D of the RDA, such as if the act was done reasonably and in good faith for purposes of artistic work or public interest or making a fair comment, had no application because the articles contained factual errors.

Hence, this has now appeared to be the first task of the Abbott government, that is to remove this racial vilification law. In Brandis’ view, repealing section 18C would, in fact, strengthen and restore freedom of speech in Australia.

“You cannot have a situation in a liberal democracy in which the expression of an opinion is rendered unlawful because somebody else ... finds it offensive or insulting,” said Brandis in The Australian recently.

In other words, free speech is about allowing other people to say or write bad and rude things about you which you do not like.

That was exactly what Abbott said in August when he was the Opposition Leader: “If free speech is to mean anything, it’s others’ right to say what you don’t like, not just what you do. It’s the freedom to write badly and rudely. It’s the freedom to be obnoxious and objectionable.”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Have uniform laws

Cleaning up: A contractor raking the litter trapped in a floating boom installed in Sungai Batu near Kampung Simpang Batu, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysians must realise that whatever we throw into the drain will eventually flow into the river.
The Sunday Star
Legally Speaking by Roger Tan

There should be a law to deal with all matters relating to our water resources, including management and preservation of rivers. 

THERE is a saying that if you follow the river, you will find the sea. But these days, this may not literally be the case any more. The old river may have already turned into a stream or its path has been severely obstructed by waste. 

Yet, whenever there is a flash flood, we would blame nature for causing the river to burst its banks. Take the Gombak River, for example. The flood problem has been there ever since the beginning of the century. 

As someone related to me, during the great flood of 1920 when Kuala Lumpur was inundated with a metre of water, workers had to paddle to work in sampans! When the water receded, the Chartered Bank, located at Benteng, actually spread millions of soggy bank notes to dry on the Selangor Club’s field (now Dataran Merdeka)! 

In another big flood a few years later, even the body of a tiger was swept through the city from upstream!

Hence, Malaysians must realise, if not begin to realise, that whatever you throw into the drain will eventually flow into the river. Waste must be properly disposed of, otherwise it will clog the drains and rivers. Similarly, if you discharge any environmentally hazardous substance into the river, it will cause pollution. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Adult and baby diapers now 12.14% of waste disposed in Malaysia


The Star
by Isabelle Lai

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians are throwing away more diapers each year, as the population ages and more elderly people have started using diapers, aside from babies, said the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry.

Its secretary-general Datuk Seri Arpah Abdul Razak said on Tuesday that diapers now formed 12.14% of the total waste disposed in the country.

“This shows that we have an ageing population as more senior citizens are using diapers, too,” she said in her presentation entitled “Solid Waste Management in Malaysia: A Way Forward” at the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) Congress 2013 in Austria.

AFP reported that Arpah shared Malaysia’s experience in transforming its solid waste management through three approaches.

The approaches are federalisation of solid waste management, privatisation of household solid waste collection services and treatment and disposal of solid waste.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lawyers want Sabah and Sarawak to ease restrictions

The Star

PETALING JAYA: Senior lawyers have suggested peninsula lawyers to be allowed to practise in Sabah and Sarawak without a work permit to enhance national integration.

Lawyer Roger Tan said legal professionals in Sabah and Sarawak should adopt a progressive stance as integrating the legal systems and profession would ultimately benefit the nation. 

Lawyer Datuk V. Sithambaram said for a start, conditions for an ad hoc admission to the High Court of Borneo – if a lawyer from the peninsula were to work in the two states – should be eased. 

“It will be good in the long run to encourage lawyers in the two states and peninsula to learn from each other and stand together,” he said. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ex-judges must remain ethical


The Sunday Star
Legally Speaking by Roger Tan

Who a former judge later associates with and what he subsequently does or says will still be closely scrutinised by the public.


THE morning after I retired, a Rolls Royce arrived at my house with a message that I was required to attend a very important board meeting. Without further ceremony, I was taken to the penthouse of the Chartered Bank. Here, I was appointed chairman and required to call the meeting to order.

“There were only three items on the agenda. Caviar, champagne and any other matters arising therefrom. At noon, we adjourned to a private room in the Shangri-La for a sumptuous lunch. When I was driven back home at 3pm, I greatly regretted I had not retired years earlier!”

Those were the bantering words of one of Malaysia’s most celebrated judges, Tun Mohamed Suffian, at a dinner given in his honour shortly after his retirement as Lord President on Nov 12, 1982. At first glance, these may well be facetious remarks, but it does go to show that a retired judge can be commercially marketable and become an asset for any organisation to be associated with.

Needless to say, who an ex-judge later associates with and what subsequently he does or says will still be closely scrutinised by the public. His judicial conduct during his pre-retirement or resignation days may even be called into question if he later exhibits strong inclinations or preferences whether politically, socially or morally.

However, currently, the Judges’ Code of Ethics 2009, made pursuant to Article 125(3B) of the Federal Constitution, does not deal with the conduct of judges after their retirement or resignation. Hence, an ex-judge will have to be guided by his own conscience when he embarks on any post-retirement activities. Most of them will become an arbitrator or join a legal firm as its consultant or a statutory body as its chairman. To date, only three are said to have returned to the court as counsel – Tun Mohamed Salleh Abas, Datuk Kamalanathan Ratnam (better known as R.K. Nathan) and Datuk Gopal Sri Ram.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Custodial deaths a national shame

Justice served: Kugan’s mother Indra Nalathamby leaving the court. Kugan’s family was awarded RM751,709 in damages and another RM50,000 in costs.
The Sunday Star
Legally Speaking by Roger Tan

Our enforcement officers must appreciate, if not be made to appreciate, that it is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system that a person, including a suspect, is innocent until proven guilty.

ON June 28, Justice Datuk V.T. Singham indeed retired with a bang! Two days before his retirement, he awarded RM751,709 in damages and another RM50,000 in costs to the family of Kugan Ananthan who died while in police custody on Jan 20, 2009. 

Singham held that the then Selangor police chief Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, now the Inspector-General of Police, had committed misfeasance in public office. 

In delivering his judgment, he also reportedly urged the government to urgently set up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) as recommended by the 2005 Royal Commission to enhance the operation and management of the Royal Malaysia Police (RCI).

However, at the time of writing this piece, his written judgment is still not available. In any event, the government and the IGP are expected to appeal against his decision.

This reminds me of the case of Mohd Anuar Sharip who vomited blood, collapsed and died in a police cell on Aug 19, 1999. In June, 2010, Justice Lee Swee Seng awarded about RM1.6mil in damages to his widow, Suzana Mohamad Aris. However, Lee’s decision was subsequently reversed by the Court of Appeal. In October 2010, Suzana failed to obtain leave from the Federal Court to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal. 

But it is worthy to reiterate Lee’s words when he handed down his judgment: “Let the message go forth from this place that any more deaths in police custody would be one too many! Those with power to arrest and detain must ensure that the basic human rights (sic) of a detainee to seek medical treatment while in custody, is immediately attended to. There should be no more wanton and wasted loss of life in police custody for every life is precious … The safest place to be in should not by default be turned into the most dangerous place to be taken to.”