Sunday, May 7, 2017

Judicial independence is sacrosanct

The Sunday Star
With All Due Respect by Roger Tan

Assaulting the judiciary is as crude and uncivilised as assaulting a referee who impartially and fearlessly applies the rules of the game.


Just and fair: When the judiciary decides against the authority it is simply doing its duty under the Constitution which expresses the will of the people just as when it decides for authority.
Judicial independence – a sacrosanct concept which I have written quite a bit over the years – has been much talked about again, lately.

What then is judicial independence? I believe this can be best explained by one of our most celebrated judges, Lord President Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim when writing his foreword to The Role of the Independent Judiciary by Tun Salleh Abas on Dec 17, 1988 as follows:

“When the judiciary decides against authority there is no question of its being superior to Parliament or the Executive; the three branches are co-equal partners, each branch being like the leg of a three-legged stool. When the judiciary decides against the authority it is simply doing its duty under the Constitution which expresses the will of the people just as when it decides for authority.

“To accuse a judge of wanting to wrest power from the elected representatives of the people and thus destroy democracy is as absurd as accusing a football referee of wanting to take over the game and thus destroy football because from time to time he blows the whistle against one’s team-mate. There can be no justice for the people without independent judges as there can be no game without independent referees. Assaulting the judiciary is as crude and uncivilised as assaulting a referee who impartially and fearlessly applies the rules of the game.

“Those who stand by and do nothing to protect the independence of the judiciary will in the end get a judiciary they deserve – one powerless to stand between them and tyranny.”

This is echoed by the new Chief Justice, Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif in his inaugural speech at the recent ceremony celebrating his elevation that it is his duty as well as everyone’s to ensure that the independence of the judiciary is safeguarded.

“As an institution, the judiciary is not and should never be beholden to anyone but the Federal Constitution,” said Md Raus. In other words, not even to the Executive nor Parliament!

To the legally trained, this is also known as the doctrine of separation of powers where the three branches of state – legislature (Parliament), executive (government) and the judiciary are independent of one another so that each has separate powers to become a check and balance on the other.

As the French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu puts it: “Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separate from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.”

Hence in the State of Washington v Trump, 2017, the USA Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled that President Donald Trump’s executive order on travel ban is not unreviewable; otherwise, it will run contrary to the fundamental structure of a constitutional democracy which requires compliance with the US Constitution which is the supreme law.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Property transaction fees up

The Star
by Adrian Chan

PETALING JAYA: The sale and transfer of property valued at RM500,000 and below will now be subjected to a 1% conveyancing fee. 

Taking effect today, it came about with the revision of the fee structure in the Solicitors’ Remuneration Order by the Bar Council last year. 

The revision, which was approved by the Solicitors Cost Committee on Feb 28, will also see 0.8% conveyancing fee for properties worth above RM500,000 but below RM1mil. 

Previously, only properties worth RM150,000 and below were subjected to a 1% fee while those costing above RM150,000 and up to RM1mil were imposed with a 0.7% charge. 

However, like the old Order, property transactions from licensed housing developers will automatically get between 25% and 35% reduction in fees depending on the value. 

This means that for a property worth RM500,000, the new conveyancing fee is RM5,000 but will only come up to RM3,500 following reductions. In the past, the fee was RM2,765. 

For a RM1mil property, the fee is RM5,850, up from RM4,842.

According to the association, the sum is calculated by charging the 1% fee on the first RM500,000 before adding the 0.8% fee on the subsequent value. This total is then deducted with the 35% reduction.

Before the revision in March last year, the fee structure had remained the same for the past 11 years.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

No room for hudud law

The Sunday Star
With All Due Respect by Roger Tan

No political acquiescence: Barisan Nasional component party leaders have resolved to stand against PAS’ Hudud Bill. From left are MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, SUPP deputy president Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem and MCA secretary-general Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan.
PAS’ proposed Syariah Courts amendments are no less controversial even when we look at them objectively. The clash of laws will only give rise to another set of headaches to our multi-religious and multi-racial society. PAS’ proposed Syariah Courts Act amendments are no less controversial even when we look at them objectively. The clash of laws will only give rise to another set of headaches to our multi-religious and multi-racial society. 

IT was indeed unusual. On May 26, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said moved a motion allowing opposition MP, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s Private Member’s Bill (PMB) to take precedence over government business. This has enabled Abdul Hadi’s PMB to leapfrog over government matters, thus allowing it to be tabled. Abdul Hadi had tried twice since 2015 and failed, but now his PMB will be debated in the October parliamentary session.

Needless to say, the non-Muslim Barisan Nasional leaders felt slighted as they were obviously caught unawares.

Abdul Hadi’s PMB, entitled the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) (Amendment) Bill 2016, seeks to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, 1965 (Act 355); as Umno leaders had explained, it was intended to enhance the powers of Syariah Courts.

However, the exhilarated PAS leaders had no hesitation to proclaim that it was to pave the way for the implementation of hudud punishment in Kelantan via the Syariah Criminal Code II (1993) 2015 (SCC) passed by the Kelantan State Legislature on March 19 last year.

The preamble to the SCC clearly states that this state enactment is for the creation of Syariah hudud criminal offences. Under the SCC, there are six types of hudud offences – sariqah (theft), hirabah (robbery), zina (unlawful sexual intercourse such as adultery, pre-marital sex and sodomy), qazaf (accusation of zina which cannot be proven without four witnesses), syurb (consuming liquor or intoxicating drinks), and irtadad or riddah (apostasy).

Emotion aside, let us now look at this controversial subject strictly from the legal perspective.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Sungai Layang Dam now at critical level

Pic by Zulkarnian Ahmad Tajuddin, New Straits Times
The Star

JOHOR BARU: The water level at the Sg Layang Dam has dropped to a critical level. The dam will only be able to supply water for between two and three weeks if the present weather persists.

So far, the authorities have not started any water rationing or scheduled water cuts for about 500,000 residents who get their supply from the dam.

The dam supplies water to those in Pasir Gudang and Johor Baru.

National Water Services Commission (SPAN) chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Ridhuan Ismail said that there was a high possibility of water cuts being implemented if the situation did not improve.

“The water level at Sungai Layang is now at 19.58m which is way below critical level of 23.5m.

“It is alarming because the level seems to be consistently dropping by about 0.03/0.04 metres per day,” he told reporters after visiting the Sungai Layang water treatment plant here.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Resolving tugs of war

The Sunday Star 
With All Due Respect by Roger Tan

The Federal Court ruling on the custody battle between a Muslim convert and his Hindu ex-wife was a landmark decision. Can the thorny issue of unilateral conversion be finally be put to rest?

The much-awaited decision of the Federal Court involving S. Deepa and her former husband, now a Muslim convert, Izwan Abdullah, delivered on Feb 10, is sort of a landmark decision.

Deepa and Izwan (whose Hindu name is N. Viran) registered their civil marriage on March 19, 2003, under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act, 1976 (Act 164). They have two children, a girl, V. Shamila and a boy, V. Mithran. ­Both were Hindus at the time of their birth. 

On Nov 26, 2012, Viran converted to Islam. On Jan 4, 2013, Izwan unilaterally converted the two minors to Islam surreptitiously without the knowledge or consent of Deepa. 

Shamila’s Muslim name is Nur Nabila Izwan while Mithran is named Muhammad Nabil Izwan. On May 15, 2013, Izwan also managed to obtain a dissolution order of his civil marriage with Deepa from the Seremban Syariah High Court under section 46(2) of the Islamic Family Law (Negri Sembilan) Enactment 2003. Then on Sept 19, 2013, Izwan was granted permanent custody of the two children by the Syariah High Court with Deepa having visitation rights and access to the children.

Meanwhile, upon the application of Deepa, the civil marriage was dissolved by the Seremban Civil High Court on April 7, 2014. The same court also granted permanent custody of the children to Deepa with Izwan having weekly access to the children. However, two days later, Izwan took Mithran away from Deepa’s house. Deepa then applied for and obtained a recovery order from the Civil High Court pursuant to section 53 of the Child Act, 2001. 

Izwan appealed to the Court of Appeal against the custody order as well as the recovery order. On Dec 17, 2014, the Court of Appeal dismissed both appeals. 

On Feb 10, the Federal Court ruled that as long as one parent was non-Muslim, the Syariah Court had no jurisdiction to hear any matter pertaining to the marriage solemnised under civil law at the very beginning (ab initio). The court also granted custody of Shamila (Nurul Nabila), 11, to Deepa, while son Mithran (Nabil), eight, is to live with Izwan. 

To be fair to the panel of five Federal Court judges chaired by the Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Raus Sharif who also delivered the decision of the apex court, the issue of unilateral conversion was not addressed simply because the court was asked to determine only two questions of law, namely: