BY SURENDRA ANANTH
NOVEMBER 24 ― The Deputy Prime Minister recently announced that the private members bill by Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (the “Act”) would be tabled with amendments, and that a Parliamentary Select Committee would be established to study the said bill.
PAS lawmaker Datuk Khairuddin Aman Razali was reported as having said that the amended bill would allow the Shariah Courts to impose 30 years prison, fines up to RM100,000 and no more than 100 strokes of the cane.
The Deputy Prime Minister assured the public that the bill is not about Hudud. To be clear, he was reported as having said:
“This Bill is not about Hudud. We want to empower Shariah courts. Is it wrong for us to empower Shariah courts?”
This is a big misconception. The said bill will pave way for the enforcement of hudud. Let us be clear on how the Islamic criminal justice system is implemented in Malaysia. All form of Islamic law, including the establishment of Shariah courts, stems from Item 1 of the State List in the Federal Constitution. The relevant part of the item reads:
“the constitution, organization and procedure of Syariah courts, which shall have jurisdiction only over persons professing the religion of Islam and in respect only of any of the matters included in this paragraph, but shall not have jurisdiction in respect of offences except in so far as conferred by federal law”
In essence, it is up to Parliament to determine what offences the Shariah Court has jurisdiction over.
Now, in order to confer such jurisdiction to the shariah courts, Parliament enacted the Act. To put it simply, Parliament in its wisdom provided the Shariah Courts with the jurisdiction to try all offences against the precepts of Islam as long as the punishment for the said offences is within the limit set by Parliament.
There is an important distinction here between two concepts; the offence and the punishment. Parliament sets the limit of the punishment. The offence is however created by the respective State Legislative Assemblies. This is the clear intention of the Act. Parliament does not name the specific offences on which the Shariah Courts have jurisdiction over. It only provides the punishment. The current sentencing limit is up to 3 years imprisonment, fines up to RM5,000 and no more than 6 stroke of the cane.
Putting it in another way, the State Legislative Assemblies can create any Islamic offence within Item 1 of the State List, as long as the punishment for the said offences is within the limit set by Parliament.
The next question is, what is hudud? The term “hudud” (literally “limits”) refers to offences (and their corresponding punishment or sentence) that are considered by jurists to have been prescribed by the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. The Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code II 1993 (as amended in 2015) provides for the following Hudud offences:
If the Bill is passed in its original form, it would allow for the implementation of all the offences mentioned above except for adultery, sodomy, al-lian (for wife) and irtidad (if repentance is refused). If the Bill is amended to reduce the limits as suggested above, it would still allow for the implementation of three of offences mentioned above, i.e. qazaf, al-lian (for husband) and syurb.
There is no need for the bill to specifically mention the term “Hudud”, or any other offence for that matter. As long as it provides for punishment that corresponds to Hudud offences, the State Legislative Assemblies are free to create Hudud offences (I am of the view that the creation of such offences would be unconstitutional in any event. This has been made the subject of another article which can be accessed here.
In other words, if the Bill is passed as amended, Kelantan can still proceed to implement three hudud offences. The Deputy Prime Minister was therefore wrong in saying that the Bill is not about Hudud. The Bill does not need to mention Hudud, to be about Hudud. All it has to do is to provide for the sentence as prescribed under the Quran and Sunnah. I believe Tun Abdul Hamid Muhamad, the former Chief Justice, had rightly described the positions taken by PAS and Umno. In his article entitled “Pindaan Akta 355: Kesan Sebenar”, he said:
“Dalam hal ini, Pas mengatakan bahawa pindaan itu hanyalah untuk menaikkan bidang kuasa Mahkamah Syariah dan tidak kena-mengena dengan agenda hududnya. Kenyataan seperti itu boleh berbangkit daripada dua sebab. Pertama, pemimpin-pemimpin Pas sendiri tidak faham kesan pindaan yang dicadangkan oleh mereka. Kedua, mereka faham dan tahu kesan yang sebenar, tetapi mereka berkata demikian (kepada bukan ahli Pas) kerana tujuan politik: untuk mengelirukan orang-orang yang tidak bersetuju dengan pelaksanaan hudud (Islam dan bukan Islam) dan memudahkan UMNO menyokongnya. Kepada ahli Pas, semestinya mereka akan mengatakan tujuan sebenar pindaan itu dan kesannya.
Saya yakin, sebenarnya pemimpin-pemimpin Pas faham dan tahu kesan pindaan yang dicadangkan oleh mereka itu. Mereka bukan bodoh, malah dalam isu hudud itu, dari segi politik, Pas lebih cerdik daripada UMNO. Maka, saya menolak alasan pertama. Oleh itu, alasan Pas berkata demikian adalah alasan kedua.
Nampaknya pemimpin-pemimpin UMNO turut melaungkan (echoing) apa yang dikatakan oleh pemimpin-pemimpin Pas itu. Saya percaya mereka berbuat demikian atas sebab atau sebab-sebab yang saya sebutkan di atas. Di sini, saya percaya, ada pemimpin UMNO itu yang tidak faham dan turut mengulangi apa yang dikatakan oleh pemimpin-pemimpin Pas kerana mereka tidak mahu UMNO dilihat sebagai “menentang hudud”, satu lagi salah anggapan. Maka, mereka termasuk ke dalam perangkap Pas sekali lagi.
Saya juga percaya ada pemimpin UMNO yang faham kesannya yang sebenar, tetapi mereka ingin berada dalam arus utama. Maka, mereka juga turut melaungkan kenyataan yang sama dengan harapan akan memuaskan semua pihak yang, bagi saya, adalah satu anggapan yang meleset.
Selain itu, ada pula yang mengatakan bahawa pindaan itu hanya melibatkan negeri Kelantan. Ini juga tidak betul. Akta 355 adalah undang-undang Persekutuan. Maka akta ini terpakai di seluruh Malaysia. Usul tersebut tidak berkata akan terpakai di Kelantan sahaja.”
The implications are clear. The Bill, even if amended, would still allow for the implementation of Hudud (though not all offences). Further, it would not be specific to Kelantan. It would affect every state in Malaysia. The enhancement of the Shariah court’s jurisdiction to such extent is against the basic structure of the Constitution. Criminal law is a matter under the Federal List. Malaysia was established as a federation, where the federal government has greater powers as compared to the state governments. It is for this reason that inconsistencies between federal and state laws must be resolved in favour of the former. If the Shariah Court is given such wide powers (even wider than the civil courts for caning), it would upset the deference given to Parliament on matters on criminal law. It must be borne in mind that the civil courts are superior. Shariah courts are specialist courts only on matters in Item 1 of the State List. As put by the former Chief Justice, Abdul Hamid Mohamad in a famous Federal Court case:
“In fact, the position of the syariah courts, in this respect, is similar to the Session Courts and the Magistrates’ Courts. In respect of the last two mentioned courts, which the Constitution call ‘inferior courts’…”
* Surendra Ananth is an advocate and solicitor in the High Court of Malaya. He is also the Deputy Co-Chairperson of the Malaysian Bar Constitutional Law Committee.