Johor Religious Council fails to stop fresh hearing in ‘bin Abdullah’ case

PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court today dismissed an application by the Johor Islamic Religious Council to deliver the judgment of an earlier panel on whether a Muslim child conceived out of wedlock can carry the father’s name.

Chief Judge of Malaya Azahar Mohamed, who led a seven-member bench, said the Courts of Judicature Act allowed at least three judges to hear appeals while a minimum two must be in office to deliver judgments.

“On Nov 22 (last year), three remaining judges were ready to pronounce their judgment but could not do so because the appellant (the government) sought a postponement to settle the matter in a non-legal way,” he said.

He said subsequently two retired, leaving only Ahmad Maarop in office.

Azahar said as such, this bench would rehear the appeal afresh and deliver its judgment.

Others are Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak David Wong Dak Wah, and Federal Court judges Mohamed Zawawi Salleh, Rohana Yusof, Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, Idrus Harun and Nallini Pathmanathan.

Earlier, lawyer Sulaiman Abdullah, who represented the council, said the single judge or court registrar could deliver the judgment of the previous bench.

He also objected to the fresh hearing because the government and the respondent did not include the council in their attempt to settle the matter through administrative channels.

“I am objecting as it will create an unhealthy precedent when powerful parties come to know of a judgment,” he said.

Wong and Zawawi said there was a Federal Court ruling early this year that at least two judges must remain in office to deliver a verdict.

However, Sulaiman said it was unfair if all the hard work of the previous bench went to waste.

Lawyer K Shanmuga, who is representing the parents and the illegitimate child, said Sulaiman’s objection had no basis.

“It is for the government to decide who they want to invite for an out-of-court settlement,” he said.

Sulaiman said on Nov 22, he had objected strongly to the postponement because the three judges were ready to read out the judgment.

On Feb 7, the then chief justice Raus Sharif chaired a five-member bench to hear the case, and reserved judgment after submissions from the lawyers.

Other judges on the panel were Ahmad, Hasan Lah, Balia Yusof Wahi and Aziah Ali.

The central issue before the apex court is whether Section 13 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1957 (BDRA) applies only to non-Muslims.

The second issue is whether the surname applies to the patronym, that is, the father’s name.