Cabinet’s decision on conversion: – Syariah Lawyers & Zulkifli Nordin dissents
Posted by Oscar the Grouch on April 26, 2009
The Star’s columnist, Baradan Kuppusamy, was correct to say that even the most stringent of government critics – anonymous commentators on political blogs – have praised the decision by the Cabinet relating to the conversion controversy among spouses and their children.
However, as Mr. Kuppusamy points out, we will be waiting for this policy to be “… translated into legal effect for a just and lasting solution to this long-standing dilemma.“
In a turn of surprising events, we have the Malaysian Syariah Lawyers Association (PGSM) criticizing the Cabinet’s pronouncement. The PGSM views the decision as interference of legislative matters and threatens the freedom of the courts. PGSM’s deputy president, Musa Awang was quoted as saying that the courts must be free from interference from any party including the Government.
I would have to disagree. In order for the decision to be effected, the Government / Cabinet would have to introduce the new bill to Parliament. As long as the proposed bill on conversion is passed by both houses of Parliament and assented to by the Agung, it becomes law.
Once the new law on conversion is in place, the courts would have to apply it. The courts are bound to decide on cases pursuant to the laws passed by Parliament.
In that sense, I cannot see how the Cabinet’s decision as an interference of legislative matters and as threatening the freedom of the courts. Members of the Cabinet, who are also members of parliament sitting in the legislative institution, are empowered with legislative powers. The courts do not have legislative powers – they do not make law – they merely apply the law.
The PGSM appears to be getting everything muddled up. At the moment, it is merely a decision announced by the Cabinet. It is not yet law. Nor is the Cabinet instructing the courts. Until the new law comes about, the courts can still independently decide on existing laws.
Another person who appears a tad bit confused is PKR renegade, Zulkifli Nordin. He says the decision contradicts the Federal Constitution and the Federal Court decisions. He says that the issue has been addressed clearly by the Federal Court in the Subashini’s case, where the court stated that the issue is bound by Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution. (Art 12 (4) states that the religion of a person under 18 years shall be decided by his parents).
Well, Zulkifli Nordin is correct. The Federal Court had decided the case based on the existing laws at that time. But that does not mean the laws cannot be changed. Mr. Zulkifli appears to imply that laws cannot be changed. Well, there are good laws, and there are bad laws. If a law is bad, or produces unjust result, perhaps it is time for a change. Amend the Federal Constitution if need be. It is not as if our constitution has never been changed.
What is the problem then for Zulkifli Nordin and PGSM? The change will not operate retrospectively. Past decisions will not be affected. Why should a proposal to change a bad law be construed as interference to the courts? Zulkifli Nordin, as a member of parliament for Kulim, is free to veto against the bill when it is introduced at the Dewan Rakyat.