Stateless kids: Court forms first 9-member bench to hear appeals

The fundamental question before the apex court is whether blood or lineage is a requirement under the constitution in determining the citizenship of a child. (Reuters pic)

PUTRAJAYA: History will be made when, for the first time, a nine-member Federal Court bench sits on the eve of Merdeka to hear five appeals of stateless children.

Lawyer Latheefa Koya, appearing for two of the children, said Chief Justice Richard Malanjum would lead the bench on Aug 30.

“An extended bench is constituted as the appeals involve constitutional issues,” she told reporters after case management before a Federal Court registrar today.

Last week after his appointment as the new chief justice, Malanjum proposed forming a nine-member bench for constitutional cases and a seven-member panel for public interest cases.

He said apart from the top four judges, other Federal Court judges would be selected to hear cases through balloting.

“This is to stop the perception of judge-fixing and I also need not crack my head to empanel judges,” he said.

In the past, only a seven-member bench was constituted to hear civil and criminal cases.

The last such bench was on March 14 when the judges were assembled to determine whether the appointments of then-chief justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, despite having exceeded their mandatory retirement age, were constitutional or otherwise.

According to then-lord president Salleh Abas in his book “May Day for Justice” co-authored with K Das, in 1988 he scheduled to have a nine-member panel of the then-Supreme Court to hear an appeal by Umno.

A year earlier, the High Court ruled that Umno was an illegal entity as several members from unauthorised branches had participated in the election of office bearers to the party’s Supreme Council.

Salleh was subsequently removed from office for judicial misconduct and the case was finally heard by a three-member panel.

In the present stateless children case, a five-member bench chaired by former chief judge of Malaya Ahmad Maarop was constituted.

Ahmad has since been promoted to Court of Appeal president.

The fundamental question before the apex court in the five cases is whether blood or lineage is a requirement under the Federal Constitution in determining the citizenship of a child.

In three of the cases, the Court of Appeal rejected the citizenship applications because the mother was a foreigner even though the children were born in Malaysia.

In the fourth case, a Court of Appeal bench ordered the government to issue citizenship to a child born to a Malaysian father and a mother from Papua New Guinea.

However, the government is appealing against that decision.

In the fifth case, the High Court in Shah Alam referred the matter straight to the Federal Court as constitutional issues were involved.

In this case, the biological parents were unknown but the child was adopted by Malaysian citizens.

The National Registration Department refused to grant citizenship as the birth certificate stated that the child was not Malaysian.

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