Bar Council: Select committee needed to study Hadi’s bill

George-Varughese_law_6001

PETALING JAYA: The Bar Council wants a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into “problematic” issues that arise due to the heavier penalties stipulated in the shariah amendment bill tabled in the Dewan Rakyat on Thursday.

Its president George Varughese today said Parliament should not push ahead with the bill’s debate, but instead establish the committee, as had been mooted in November last year, to undertake extensive and in-depth study of the proposals.

“The Malaysian Bar supports this suggestion that was already mentioned by our Deputy Prime Minister,” he said.

He pointed out that the amendment to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, or Act 355, provides new maximum limits of punishment without specifying the actual punishment in connection to each specific offence.

“This raises issues of appropriateness and proportionality in sentencing, especially since Syariah courts are state courts and different states may impose different sentences for the same offences,” he said in a statement.

It also raises the issue of discrimination and equal treatment under the law as provided under Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, he added.

The bill, tabled by PAS president and Marang MP Abdul Hadi Awang, seeks to increase the sentencing limits of Syariah courts from a maximum of three years’ imprisonment, RM5,000 fine and six strokes of the cane, to a maximum of 30 years’ imprisonment, RM100,000 fine and 100 strokes of the cane respectively.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia had on Thursday deferred the debate and voting over the bill to the next meeting of the house.

Vaughese added that as the proposed increases for shariah offences are substantial, the proper divide between personal and criminal law needs to be determined, along with the issue of whether the Federal Constitution intended for Syariah courts to have such broad sentencing powers.

“Third, the nature of the proposed amendments has affected public perception and raises concerns that they could pave the way for the introduction of hudud law, which the framers of our Federal Constitution clearly did not envisage in our constitutional scheme,” he said.

“All these are critical constitutional issues that require thorough deliberation and study.”

“Consultations, submissions and public hearings should be conducted throughout the four corners of our country, since the repercussions of the proposed amendments are far-reaching, and could permanently change the character and identity of Malaysia going forward,” he added.

On Nov 22, 2016 Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had announced that a select committee with Muslim and non-Muslim MPs would be formed in order to iron out issues on the bill and explain the separation of powers between the civil and shariah courts.

Speaking after chairing a meeting of Muslim MPs from both sides of the political divide, he had said he would recommend the move to Prime Minister Najib Razak to table it in the Cabinet meeting within a week.

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