Lawyer: Rulers consent not required to raise shariah penalties

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PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya need not obtain consent from the Conference of Rulers to pass a federal law that seeks to enhance punishment for shariah offences, lawyer Syahredzan Johan said.

“Consulting the Conference of Rulers would be out of courtesy instead of any legal requirement. This is out of respect for the Malay rulers, who are the head of Islam in their respective States,” he said.

Syahredzan said the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, or widely known as Act 355, was a ‘federal law’ which set the jurisdiction of offences for the shariah courts.

He said the State List provided that states in the federation only have jurisdiction over the constitution, organisation and procedure of shariah courts.

“So, the minister is wrong to suggest that there is a requirement for government bills, but no such requirement for private members bills,” he said

Syahredzan was responding to remarks by minister in charge of Islamic Affairs in Putrajaya, Jamil Khir Baharom that the government had not originally tabled the amendments to Act 355 because doing so would require the approval of all 14 states.

However, he had said a private member’s bill would not need the Rulers’ consent.

Syahredzan, who handles mostly civil and constitutional issues, said all bills had the same requirements, whether they came from the government or from individual MPs.

Law expert Abdul Aziz Bari said it was unclear in the Constitution as to which subject matter relating to Islam the government must refer to the Conference of Rulers for their consent.

“It is a moot point and hopefully someone with legal standing files a challenge to obtain the opinion of the court,” he said.

Aziz said he could not recall the government, in the past, consulting the Rulers when introducing federal laws relating to Islamic finance and banking.

Former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim had earlier said Jamil was wrong to suggest that the amendment to Act 355 through a private member’s bill could be done without the consensus of Malaysia’s 14 states and the Conference of Rulers.

“Whether it is tabled by Hadi (the private members bill) or Prime Minister Najib Razak (government bill), the same set of requirements apply.

Zaid, who is also a lawyer, said Islamic laws were under the purview of the states and the Malay rulers, and their consent must be obtained before any amendment to Act 355 can be done.

In October, former finance minister and long-serving Umno lawmaker, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said the Malay Rulers should have been consulted, and their express approval obtained, before the tabling of any shariah law amendment in Parliament.

Hadi’s bill, which initially sought to increase the shariah court’s punitive powers, was amended in the last week of November’s Dewan Rakyat session.

It will now cap the penalties prescribed under Act 355 at 30 years’ jail, RM100,000 fine, and 100 strokes of the cane.

Currently, shariah punishment is capped at three years’ prison term, RM5,000 fine, and six strokes of the cane.