PETALING JAYA : The Federal Court has declined an application by M Indira Gandhi, who is challenging the unilateral conversion of her three children by her Muslim convert ex-husband, to have a nine-man bench hear the case on Monday.
Her lawyer M Kulasegaran said he was informed of this through a letter from the Federal Court Registrar’s office.
“It said that the Registrar has been directed by Chief Justice (Arifin Zakaria) to disallow the application for a nine-man bench,” Kulasegaran said, adding that no reason was given.
Kulasegaran said he was unsure now if a seven-man coram or the usual five-man panel would hear the case but hoped for a multi-racial and mixed-gender composition to hear the case which has far-reaching consequences.
There has never been a nine-man bench to hear civil or criminal cases with the maximum being a seven-man panel.
In March 2014, Arifin led a seven-man bench to hear a leave application by the Roman Catholic Church to challenge the Home Ministry over the ban on the use of the word “Allah”.
On May 19, the court gave leave to Indira to appeal as Putrajaya did not object to three legal questions posed by her, but the central issue is whether one or both parents must agree to the conversion of their underaged child to Islam.
In December, the majority Court of Appeal ruling held that the validity of conversion of the children by Indira’s former husband Muhammad Riduan Abdullah could only be determined by the Shariah Court.
Setting aside the 2013 Ipoh High Court ruling, justices Balia Yusof Wahi and Badariah Sahamid said the civil court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the conversion.
However, judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer, who dissented, said the conversion was purely an administrative matter and the civil court could inquire into the matter.
Ipoh High Court judge Lee Swee Seng had held the conversion certificates of the children – Tevi Darsiny, Karan Dinish and Prasana Diksa – were null and void.
Tevi Darsiny and Karan Dinish are in Indira’s care while Prasana Diksa is with Riduan, whose original named was K Pathmanathan.
In 2009, Riduan snatched their youngest daughter Prasana, then aged 11 months, before unilaterally converting the three children in their absence.
After the conversion, he obtained a permanent custody order in the Islamic court.
In the long drawn-out child custody battle, Indira subsequently won full custody of her three children in the Ipoh High Court on March 11, 2010, with the same civil court issuing a recovery order in her favour.
Riduan had failed to challenge the custody order at the Federal Court, but has yet to return Prasana despite being found in contempt of court for failing to comply with the Ipoh court ruling.
Eight-year-old Prasana’s location remains unknown.
Indira’s eldest daughter Tevi Darsiny is now an adult at 19 while her brother Karan Dinish is 18 and both are old enough to decide their own faiths.