Saturday May 15, 2010
Test case for non-Muslim lawyer in Syariah court
By M. MAGESWARI
KUALA LUMPUR: In a test case, a non-Muslim counsel has been allowed to challenge the requirement that a syarie lawyer in Kuala Lumpur must be a Muslim.
Victoria Jayaseelee Martin succeeded in her application to get the High Court to hear her case to compel the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council to admit her as a syarie lawyer.
Yesterday, High Court (Appellate and Special Powers) judge Justice Mohd Zawawi Salleh allowed Victoria’s application after dismissing preliminary objections raised by the AG’s chambers through Senior Federal Counsel Nadia Hanim Mohd Tajuddin.
Speaking to reporters later, Victoria said she was happy with the ruling.
“The current state of affairs demands that a non-Muslim be a syarie lawyer. Look at the recent (conversion and custody battle) cases like R. Subashini, S. Shamala and Lina Joy.
“As the jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts can have a direct impact on non-Muslims and Muslims who have renounced their faith, it is only just that they have recourse to counsel of their choice, whether Muslim or non-Muslim,” she said.
Her lead counsel Ranjit Singh said the Attorney General’s Chambers had objected to the leave application on the grounds that only the Syariah Court has the jurisdiction to hear the issue.
“They argued that Victoria should appeal for her application to be reconsidered. We argued that the appeal is a futile exercise as the syariah rules already state that you must be a Muslim,” he said.
In a statement filed to support her application, Victoria said she has a Diploma in Syariah Law and Practice from the International Islamic University Malaysia, in addition to a University of London law degree.
She claimed that the council, through the Syariah Lawyer Committee, had rejected her application to practise as a syarie lawyer solely because she was not Muslim.
She contended that Section 59(1) of the Syariah Act provided that the council could admit any person having sufficient knowledge of Islamic law to be a syarie lawyer to represent parties in any proceedings before the Syariah Court.
In her affidavit, Victoria, 48, said she applied to be admitted as a syarie lawyer in KL in February, 2006. She claimed that she did not get any response for her first application causing her to re-apply on Aug 24, last year.