Thursday, March 17, 2011

Malaysia: No to non-Muslim Syarie lawyers

By Reena Raj

KUALA LUMPUR: After a 10-month-long battle, a test case bid by a non-Muslim counsel to practise Syariah law came to a halt after it was rejected by the High Court here this morning.

High Court (Appellate and Special Powers) Judge Justice Rohana Yusuf, in dismissing the application by Victoria Jayaseele Martin, 48, said the admission of a Syariah lawyer was conditional upon the rule by the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council, with the approval of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

She said the rules were to be made on procedure, qualifications and fees for admission of a Syariah lawyer.

The judge said Rule Eight of the Federal Constitution did not deprive Victoria of being an advocate and solicitor.

“In my view, the purposive rule of the requirement of a Muslim faith is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of legal representations.”

As the case involved an issue of public interest, Rohana also ruled all parties to bear their own cost.

On May 14 last year, Victoria was allowed to challenge the requirement that a Syariah lawyer in Federal Territory must be a Muslim and to compel the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council to admit her as a Syariah lawyer.

The High Court (Appellate and Special Powers) judge at that time, Justice Mohd Zawawi Salleh, allowed Victoria’s application after dismissing preliminary objections raised by the Attorney-General’s Chambers through Senior Federal Counsel Nadia Hanim Mohd Tajuddin.

In a statement filed to support her application, Victoria had stated she possessed a Diploma in Syariah Law and Practice from the International Islamic University Malaysia, in addition to a University of London law degree.

She claimed the council, through the Syariah Lawyer Committee, had rejected her application to practise as a Syariah lawyer solely because she was not Muslim.

Victoria had said Section 59(1) of the Syariah Act provided that the council could admit any person having sufficient knowledge of Islamic law to be a Syariah lawyer to represent parties in any proceedings before the Syariah Court.

In her affidavit, she had said she applied to be admitted as a Syariah lawyer in Kuala Lumpur in February, 2006.

She claimed she did not get any response to her first application, causing her to re-apply on Aug 24, last year.

Victoria was represented by Ranjit Singh.

(The Malay Mail, Thursday, March 17th, 2011)