PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal has dismissed former Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah’s appeal after she was stopped from leaving Malaysia in 2016.
A three-member bench chaired by Justice Umi Kalthum Abdul Majid said the matter was academic and the court would not want to act in vain.
“We are of the view the appeal has become academic and there is no travesty of justice,” she said.
Maria, who was recently elected Petaling Jaya MP, can now travel abroad as the ban has been lifted.
On May 18 last year, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that an amendment to the Immigration Act did not allow the courts to hear complaints from citizens who are banned from travelling overseas.
Justice Nik Hasmat Nik Mohamad said, as such, she could not provide the remedy sought by Maria.
“The ouster clause in Section 59A of the Immigration Act has prevented aggrieved citizens the right to judicial review,” the judge said in dismissing the suit brought by Maria.
She said Section 59 of the legislation further allowed the respondents – the home minister and the Immigration Department director-general – the right not to give reasons why such a ban was being imposed, except for procedural non-compliance.
Maria had claimed that she was informed of her travel ban just shortly before she was to board a flight to South Korea on May 15 , 2016, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Maria had applied to quash the decision made by the respondents to blacklist her from travelling abroad. She had also sought a declaration that the respondents did not have the power to reach the decision and had, therefore, acted in excess of their jurisdiction.
Lawyer Gurdial Singh Nijar, who represented Maria, today submitted that the court should make a ruling to determine the power of the (Immigration Department) director-general.
He said a ruling for future guidance was needed or else the authorities could be irrational and unreasonable in imposing travel bans.
“Where else could we go for remedy if not to the court to act as final arbiter ?” he asked.
Gurdial said failure of the court to make a ruling would put a stamp of approval to the decision of the director-general.
“The issue at hand is not about a private right of a citizen but a matter of public interest,” he said.
Government lawyer Shamsul Bolhassan submitted that there were case laws to support the fact that the court need not hear an academic issue and deliver decision.
“It will be hypothetical to decide on the powers of the director-general,” he said.
Speaking to reporters, Gurdial said the court had abdicated its duty by refusing to entertain the appeal.
“By abstaining, the court has given an unfettered discretion to the director-general to decide on the right to travel,” he said.
Gurdial said it was acceptable if a person was stopped from leaving Malaysia due to a criminal charge or while criminal investigations were conducted.
Maria said she filed the action in court as she had been prevented from leaving the country to accept a human rights award on behalf of Bersih.
“Later we found out the grounds to impose the prohibition was that I will be tarnishing the image of the country,” she said.