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IntroductiontotheSourcesofLawinMalaysia

ByDrSharifahSuhanahSyedAhmad

Dr.SharifahSuhanahSyedAhmadisAssociateProfessorattheFacultyofLaw,UniversityofMalaya,KualaLumpur,
Malaysia.

PublishedFebruary2012
READTHEUPDATE!

Tableofcontents
1.Introduction:EarlyLegalSystems
2.TheMalaccaSultanate(14001511)
3.TheBritishEra
3.1Introduction
3.2Legislation
3.3CaseLawasaprincipalsourceoflaw
4.TheModernEra
4.1TheFederalConstitution
4.2ActsofParliament,StateEnactmentsandSubsidiaryLegislation
4.3JudicialDecisions
4.4TheapplicationofEnglishcommonlawandrulesofequitylimitationsundertheCivilLawAct,1956
5.ThePositionofIslamicLaw
6.Conclusion

1.Introduction:EarlyLegalSystems
Priortocolonizationbywesternpowers,aformofrudimentary,triballegalsystemwassaidtoexistonthePeninsula.[
[1]]VariousaboriginaltribeshadbeeninoccupationofthePeninsulaaswellasBorneolongbeforeforeignsettlers
arrived.Althoughtheirlawswereprimitiveandunwritten,theirorganizationalabilitieswereadequateandservedasa
modelforlaterMalayvillagesorkampongs.Forexample,theheadofthevillageorpenghuluwasanorganizational
socialstructurederivedfromtheNegritotribe.[[2]]Thepenghuluofanyvillageorkampongusuallyhadfullciviland
criminalpowersoverhisflock.

AlthoughtheearlypeoplesoftheMalayPeninsulawerevaried,theysharedasimilarbeliefsystem,whichenabledthe
easyabsorptionoftheHindureligion,whichwastofollow.Theseearlysocietieswerecharacterizedbyanimismand
ancestorworship.Natureandallnaturalelementswereimportant,asbeingprimarilyagriculturaliststheyrelied
heavilyonabondingwithnature.[[3]]

RecordsregardingtheexistenceofalargeHinduempireintheMalayArchipelagowerederivedfromtheTangDynasty
(AD618906).ThisempireencompassedlandsacrosstheStraitsofMalaccaandpartsofJava,includingaplacenorth
ofPalembanginSumatracalledMelayu.ThiswasthekingdomofSrivijaya.Srivijayansocietywasknowntobeboth
highlycivilizedandculturedandthekingdomitselfacentreoflearning.OneofthemostlastinglegaciesofthisHindu
ruleisthesystemofmonarchy.TheconceptofkingshipisbasedontheHinduconceptofsakti,whichliterally
translatesintothekinghavingpowers,whicharenotofthisrealm.DuringtheMalaccaSultanate,thisconceptevolved
intotheconceptofdaulat.Theconceptofdaulatdiffersfromsaktiinthatthekingisnotregardedasonehaving
supernaturalpowers,buttheideaofkingshipisrootedtothosehavingparticularorpeculiarcharacteristics,which
separateshimfromtherestoftheordinarypopulace.Hence,thisclothedtheking,orrajawithhisrighttorule.The
kingspowerandruleoverhissubjectswereabsoluteanditwasnotpossibleforanysubjecttoquestionorgoagainst
hiswishesororders.ThisconceptsurvivedwellintoandbeyondtheMalaccaSultanate.

AnotherlastinglegacyofHinduruleistheadatorcustomarylawstheyleavebehind.PriortothearrivaloftheBritish
inMalaya,theMalaysandthenativesofSabahandSarawak,followedtheirowncustomsandtraditionsoradat.
Therearetwomainstreamsofadattheadatperpatehandtheadattemenggong.Bothformsofadatarebelieved
tohaveoriginatedfromSumatra,especiallyfromthedistrictofMinangkabau.EarlymigrantsfromMinangkabau
concentratedthemselvesintwodistrictsoftheMalayPeninsulaNaninginMalacca,andtheStateofNegeri
Sembilan.Theadattemenggongispatrilinealwhiletheadatperpatehismatrilineal.Thesystemofadministrationof
theadattemenggongisautocratic,whilethatoftheadatperpatehisdemocratic.Intheadministrationofciviland
criminallaw,bothformsofadatadmitopposingcharacteristics.Forexample,intheadattemenggongcriminal
punishmentisonthebasisofaneyeforaneye,whileintheadatperpateh,theemphasisisnotsomuchupon
punishmentfortheoffencebutuponremedialmeasurestocorrectaninjustice.[[4]]

TheBritishcolonialadministrationwasbroughtintocontactwithelementsoftheMalayadat,particularlytheadat
perpateh,throughdisputespertainingtoproperty,inparticulartheissueofdivisionofpropertybetweenhusbandand
wifeupondivorce.Asubstantialamountofcaselawgrewaroundthisissueofhartasepencarian,orjointlyacquired
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property.[[5]]Subsequently,theBritishcolonialadministrationenactedlegislationtoprotectsomeinstancesof
custom,particularlythosepertainingtoland.AnexampleofthisistheCustomaryTenureEnactmentofNegeri
Sembilan(Cap215).[[6]]InMalacca,customreceivedlegislativesanctionthroughtheMalaccaLandCustomary
RightsOrdinance.[[7]]

ThearrivaloftheBritishinNorthBorneolikewisetransformednativecustomarylawfrombeinganincidenceofan
inheritedoraltraditiontoasetofclearlydefined,writtenrulesoperatingwithinanestablishedadministrativeand
judicialframework.Thisformalizationofnativecustomarylawensuresitssurvivalthroughwrittencodes.Some
examplesofthiscodificationincludetheSeaDayak(Iban)Fines1952andtheOrangUluCustomaryCodeofFines
1957.ThecustomarylawsoftheDayaksoftheThird,FourthandFifthDivisionsofSarawakhavebeencodifiedinthe
TusunTunggu,acodeofcustomarylaw,mostofitpertainingtolandmatters.[[8]]InSarawak,theNativeCourts
Ordinance1955,whichwaslaterreplacedbytheNativeCourtsOrdinance1992,establishedasystemofnativecourts
tohearandtrycasesinvolvingnativecustomarylaw.InSabah,nativecourtsareestablishedundertheNativeCourts
Enactment,1992.

2.TheMalaccaSultanate(14001511)
ThesuccessofSrivijayaasagreattradingnationwascontinuedbythenewkingdomofMalacca.Foundedbya
runawayprincefromPalembang,thesignificanceofMalaccatotheMalaysianlegalsystembeganwiththecomingof
IslamtothePeninsulafromaboutthebeginningoftheninthcenturyAD.Bythethirteenthcentury,tradeinSoutheast
AsiawasovertakenbyMuslimtradersfromIndia.MalaccawasbelievedtohavereceivedIslamintheearlyfifteenth
century.

AsaresultoftheIslamisationofMalacca,andsubsequentlyotherstatesinthePeninsula,Islamiclawswere
introducedandintheearlydays,wereappliedalongsidewiththeadatorcustomarylaw.Thisperiodalsosawwhat
waspossiblythefirstevidenceoftheemergenceofwrittenlaw,asthekingdomofMalaccaproducedtwomajorlegal
digests,whichformedthemainsourceofwrittenlawinMalaccatheHukumKanunMelaka,andtheUndang
UndangLautMelaka.TheHukumKanunconsistsof44chapters,whichtoucheduponmatterssuchastheduties
andresponsibilitiesoftheRuler,prohibitionsamongstmembersofsocietyandpenaltiesforcivilandcriminalwrongs
andfamilylaw.TheUndangUndangLautconsistsof25chapters,whichcoveredmaritimematters,suchasthe
dutiesandresponsibilitiesofshipscrew,lawspertainingtovoyagesandtrade.Thelawcontainedintheabovewritten
codesaresaidtobebasedonIslamiclawoftheShafiiSchool,togetherwithelementsoflocalcustom.[[9]]Adat,in
particulartheadattemenggonginfluencedthelawspertainingtocrimeandpunishment.

TheMalaccawrittencodeswereresponsibleforthegrowthofotherwrittencodesinotherstatesofthePeninsula:
PahangLegalDigest1595,thelawsofKedah1605,theLawsofJohore1789,andthe99LawsofPerak,1878.

In1511,MalaccawasoverrunbythePortuguese,andin1641,bytheDutch.Whilemuchisknownaboutthesystemof
administrationofboththePortugueseandtheDutch,[[10]]notmuchisknownaboutthelawswhichwereappliedto
thelocalinhabitantsofMalacca.ItwasrecordedthattheDutchEastIndiaCompanyhaddecidedonastandard
regulation,whichwouldapplyinallitsterritoriesintheIndianArchipelago.Consequently,lawbookscontaininga
collectionofthemostusedregulationsinJavaweresenttoMalacca.Thesebooksweresupposedtohaveguidedthe
CourtofJusticeinMalacca.[[11]]Thequestionremains,asinthecaseofthePortuguese,whethertheregulations
containedinthesebookswereappliedtoallinhabitantsofMalacca,localaswellasforeign,anditwasnotclearhow
theDutchtreatedtheissueofpersonallawsshouldthesecomeintoconflictwiththelawscontainedinthebooks.The
issueisnowacademicasthearrivaloftheBritishfirmlyentrenchedEnglishlawasthelawofthelandorlexlociof
Malaysia.

3.TheBritishEra
3.1Introduction
Fromtheperspectiveoflegalhistory,anargumentcouldbemadethattheBritishcolonisationofMalaysialeftbehind
suchalastinglegacyoflawsandalegalsystemduetoadifferenceofopinionontheissueofinterpretationoftheFirst
CharterofJusticegrantedtoPenangin1807.InthecaseofReginavWillans,[[12]]thecourtwouldnotaccept
PenangasaninhabitedterritorywhenitwascededtotheEastIndiaCompanybytheSultanofKedah.Thiswas
despitethefactthatevidenceshowedthereweresettlersontheisland(fourMalayfamilieswerefoundencampedupon
itwhenitwasfirstoccupiedbytheBritish).[[13]]Therewasastateoflegalchaos,whereMalaysfollowedMuslim
law,andtheChineseandIndiansettlersfollowedtheirownpersonallaws.Duetothelegalconfusion,whichexistedin
Penang,thepresumptionwasthattheCharterof1807wasgrantedwiththeaimofprovidingaremedy,andthatwas
thatthelawofEnglandbeadministeredinPenang.[[14]]Twoprincipalsourcesoflawemergedlegislationandcase
law.

3.2Legislation
TheStraitsSettlementscomprisedofPenang,SingaporeandMalaccaandwasaBritishcolonyunderdirectBritish
administration.TheChartersofJustice(1807,1826and1855)introducedandappliedEnglishlawandestablished
courtsofjustice.TheStraitsSettlementswastreatedaspartoftheBritishIndianEmpireandcameunderthelegal,
politicalandexecutivesovereigntyoftheBengalPresidency.[[15]]Asaresult,thelawsintroducedwerebasedupon
similarlawsintroducedandappliedinIndia,forexample,contractlawwhichisbasedupontheIndianContractsAct,
evidence,criminallawandcriminalprocedure.
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TheStraitsSettlementsceasedtobepartoftheIndianadministrationfromApril1867withthepassingofthe
GovernmentoftheStraitsSettlementsAct1866(29&30Victoriac115),wherebytheLegislativeCounciloftheStraits
Settlementswasgivenlegislativeauthority.Ordinancesbegantobepromulgatedandpublishedwiththe
establishmentoftheStraitsSettlementsgovernmentgazetteon1April1867.[[16]]

WhiletheStraitsSettlementswerecoloniesunderdirectBritishrule,therestofthestatesinPeninsulaMalaysiawere
ruledbySultanswhowereembroiledinvarioussuccessiondisputesintheirrespectivestates.Inthetinrichstateof
Perak,successiondisputesbecameintertwinedwithdisputesbetweenChinesesecretsocietiesforpossessionoftherich
tindeposits.BritishinterventioninthesedisputesconsolidatedBritishpoliticalpowerintheMalaystates.Treaties
wereenteredinto,whereby,inreturnforBritishprotection,itwasagreedthattheSultanreceiveandprovideasuitable
residenceforaBritishofficer,tobecalledaResident,whoshallbeaccreditedtohiscourt,andwhoseadvicemustbe
askedandacteduponallquestionsotherthanthosetouchinguponMalayreligionandcustom.[[17]]Withthe
signingoftheTreatyofFederation1895,fourstatesPerak,Selangor,NegeriSembilanandPahangbecameProtected
StatesormorecommonlyknownastheFederatedMalayStates(FMS).

AdministrativecoordinationwasachievedbytheGovernoroftheStraitsSettlementswhowasconcurrentlydesignated
theHighCommissioneroftheFMS.LegislationwasenactedbyaFederalCouncilconstitutedin1909withtherulers
asmembers.ThisarrangementcontinueduntiltheamalgamationofallStatesbytheBritishMilitaryAdministration
in1946toformtheMalayanUnion.[[18]]
ThedifferencebetweentheUnfederatedMalayStates(UMSKelantan,Kedah,Perlis,TerengganuandJohore)andthe
FMSisthatthesestatesmaintainedsomeautonomyoverlocalissues,butcontroloverforeignaffairsandother
importantaspectsofgovernmentwereinthehandsoftheBritish.Thesestateswerelikewiseadministeredbythe
GovernoroftheStraitsSettlementswhoactedasHighCommissionerofthesestates.

LegislationwasenactedbytheStateCouncilofeachState.LawspassedbytheUMSarerecordedinthefollowing
sources:[[19]]
(a)EnactmentsofJohoreform19071942,publishedannuallybytheGovernmentPrintingOfficeinJohore
Bahru
(b)GovernmentofKedahEnactments,publishedinAlorStarfrom19061928.Between1929and1938,
tenfurthervolumesentitledStateofKedahEnactmentswerepublished:
(c)EnactmentsoftheStateofKelantan,publishedannuallyfrom19041941
(d)EnactmentsofPerlis,publishedannuallybytheGovernmentPress,inJawiandEnglish,from1909
1942
(e)AnnualVolumesofTrengganuEnactments,19041914.

FollowingtheendoftheJapaneseoccupationofMalaya(19421945),theBritishgovernmentmootedtheideaofa
MalayanUnioncomprisingalltheMalaystatesandPenangandMalacca.However,thiswasvehementlyopposedby
theMalays,asaresultofwhichitwasdisbandedin1948inexchangeforafederalsystem.TheMalayanUnion
governmentpresspublishedthefollowinglaws:
(a)theMalayanUnionGovernmentGazette,publishedfrom1April194631January1948
(b)OrdinancesandRules,19461947
(c)MalayanUnionandFederalOrdinancesandStateandSettlementsEnactmentspassedduringtheyear
1948.

TheconceptoffederationestablishedacentralFederalGovernmentwhilepreservingtheintegrityoftheindividual
statesandtheirRulers.TheFederationofMalayaAgreement1957,whichrevokedtheearlierAgreementof1948,gave
birthtotheFederalConstitutionandanindependentMalayaon31August1957.

LawsthatwerepromulgatedatFederalandStatelevelswerepublishedaspartoftherespectiveFederalandState
Gazettes.After1957,FederalLegislationcontinuedtobetermedOrdinancesduetoconstitutionalprovision,which
providedfortheLegislativeCouncilestablishedundertheFederationofMalayaAgreement1948tocontinue
functioninguntil1959.TheCouncilwasdissolvedin1959byproclamation,andthereafterFederalLegislationcameto
betermedActswiththefirstParliamentsittingon11September1959.

TheMalaysiaAct1963createdtheStatecalledMalaysia,whichismadeupofelevenstatesoftheformerFederationof
Malaya,Sabah,SarawakandSingapore.In1965,SingaporeleftMalaysiaandbecameanindependentState.

3.3CaseLawasaprincipalsourceoflaw
InadditiontolegislationintroducedbytheBritishcolonialgovernment,whichwasbasedonEnglishlaw,Englishlaw
wasliberallyappliedbyEnglishjudges.However,inmattersofpersonallaw,suchasmarriageanddivorceand
inheritance,judgesmadedecisionsbasedonlocalcustoms.[[20]]However,inmattersoftradeandcommercethe
positionwasdifferent.Thisisbecausethereisadearthoflocalcustomorestablishedcustomarylawpertainingtosuch
matters,whichcouldhaveformedthebasisfortheeventualdevelopmentoflocalcommerciallaw.

Secondly,itcouldbearguedthatitwasacceptabletoapplylocalcustomsorcustomarylawtofamilyrelatedmatters
becauseitwouldnothavecreatedmuchofanimpactbeyondthepersonalorfamilyunititself.However,ifby
acceptingaparticularcustomitwouldcreateanimpactbeyondthefamilyunit,especiallyifithaseconomicor
financialimplications,suchcustomwouldnotbeacceptableasitwouldbecontrarytopublicpolicy.[[21]]Where
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customwasfoundtobeunacceptable,thecourtwouldapplyprinciplesofEnglishlawtodisplacethecustom.Inthis
way,somecustomsdodietobereplacedwithaprincipleoflaw,whichwasessentiallyalientothepeopleandtheir
wayoflife.

Incommercialmattersormercantilelaw,generallythereisalmostawholesaleapplicationofEnglishlaw.Itbegan
throughtheworkofEnglishjudgesoranEnglishtrainedjudiciary,[[22]]andwaslaterformalizedthrough
legislation.TheCivilLawEnactmentwaspassedin1937fortheFederatedMalayStates,whichprovidedforthe
receptionofEnglishLaw.In1951,theEnactmentwasextendedtotheotherMalayStatesandin1956,theCivilLaw
OrdinancewasenactedwhichintroducedEnglishlawuniformlythroughouttheFederationofMalaya.[[23]]

TheSarawakApplicationofLawsOrdinance1949appliedthecommonlawofEngland,rulesofequityandEnglish
statutesofgeneralapplicationtoSarawak,whileinSabahsimilarprovisionexistedintheSabahApplicationofLaws
Ordinance1951.

However,nopartofthelawofEnglandrelatingtothetenureorconveyanceorassuranceoforsuccessiontoany
immovablepropertyisapplicableinMalaysia.[[24]]

4.TheModernEra
Malaysianlegislationcomprisesofthefollowing:
1.TheFederalConstitution
2.Constitutionsofeachofthe13StatesofMalaysia
3.FederalActsofParliament
4.StateEnactments
5.SubsidiaryLegislation.

4.1TheFederalConstitution
Article4(1)oftheFederalConstitutiondeclarestheConstitutionasthesupremelawoftheFederation,andanylaw
passedafterMerdekaDay,whichisinconsistentwiththeConstitution,shall,totheextentoftheinconsistency,be
void.

WhatisthepositionoflawspassedonorbeforeMerdekaDay,whichareinconsistentwiththeFederalConstitution?
TheanswerisfoundinArticle162(1)whichprovidesthatexistinglawsshall,untilrepealedbytheauthorityhaving
powertodosounderthisConstitution,continueinforceonandafterMerdekaDaywithsuchmodificationsasmaybe
madethereinunderthisArticleandsubjecttoanyamendmentsmadebyFederalorStatelaw.

UnderArticle162(6),anycourtortribunalapplyingtheprovisionofanyexistinglawwhichhasnotbeenmodifiedon
orafterMerdekaDaymayapplyitwithsuchmodificationasmaybenecessarytobringitintoaccordwiththe
provisionsoftheConstitution.[[25]]

Malaysiaisafederationwithastrongcentralgovernmentatitscoreand13stategovernments.Powerisdivided
betweenthefederalgovernmentandthevariousstategovernmentsinaccordancewithPartVIoftheFederal
Constitution,whichaddressestheissueofrelationsbetweentheFederationandtheStates.

WithregardtothelegislativepoweroftheFederationandtheStates,Article74(1)providesthatParliamentmaymake
lawswithrespecttoanyofthemattersenumeratedundertheFederalList[[26]]ortheConcurrentListoftheNinth
Schedule.Article74(2)providesthattheLegislatureofaStatemaymakelawswithrespecttoanyofthematters
enumeratedintheStateListortheConcurrentListoftheNinthSchedule.[[27]]Article75providesthatifanyState
lawisinconsistentwithafederallaw,thefederallawshallprevailandtheStatelawshall,totheextentofthe
inconsistency,bevoid.

4.2ActsofParliament,StateEnactmentsandSubsidiaryLegislation
MalaysianlegislationispublishedintheGazette,andtheformatandmodeofpublicationoftheGazetteare
stipulatedundersection18oftheInterpretationActs1948and1967(Act388).ThissectionprovidesthattheFederal
Gazetteshallbepublishedinfiveparts:
(a)ActsSupplement,publishedasandwhennecessary,whichcontainsallActsofParliamentandall
OrdinancespromulgatedbytheYangdiPertuanAgong.
(b)LegislativeSupplementA,publishedasandwhennecessary,whichcontainsallRoyalProclamations,
Orders,rules,regulationsandbylaws.
(c)LegislativeSupplementB,whichcontainsallsubsidiarylegislationotherthanthatrequiredtobe
publishedinLegislativeSupplementA.
(d)BillsSupplement,containingallBills.
(e)MattersrequiredtobepublishedintheGazetteorwhichtheGovernmentdeemsitnecessarytopublish
forgeneralinformation.

Statelaws,termedEnactments(orOrdinanceinSarawak)arepublishedintheStateGazettes.Since1969,allFederal
ActsareissuedunderLawsofMalaysiaseriesbyvirtueoftheRevisionofLawsAct1968.ThisActempowersthe

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CommissionerforLawRevisiontoreviseaswellasprintsuchlawsastheCommissionerdeemsfit.AllActsof
Parliamentarenowsequentiallynumbered,beginningwiththeRevisionofLawsAct1968asAct1.

InDecember2009,thegovernmentestablishedtheMalaysianLawReformCommittee.ThisCommitteeistaskedwith
conductingresearchintoMalaysianlawstoexaminetheirrelevanceaswellastheirbenefittothecommunityorthe
public.

4.3JudicialDecisions

FederalCourt

CourtofAppeal

HighCourtHighCourt
(Malaya)(Sabah&Sarawak)

SessionsCourt

MagistratesCourts

Priorto1985,theJudicialCommitteeofthePrivyCouncil(JCPC)constitutedthehighestCourtofAppeal[[28]].
AppealstothePrivyCouncilincriminalandconstitutionalcaseswereabolishedin1978.In1985,allcivilappealsto
thePrivyCouncilwereabolished.

Thecommonlawsystemreliesheavilyoncaselaworjudicialopinions.Insuchasystem,itiscrucialforthe
administrationofjusticethatlikecasesshouldbetreatedalikeotherwise,thesystembecomesafertilebreeding
groundforunfairness.Staredecisis,whichmeanstostandbydecisionspreviouslymade,servesausefulpurposein
thisregard,asitsapplicationwouldensureameasureofcertaintyinthelawanditpromotesasystematicandlogical
developmentofthecommonlaw.However,astrictadherencetothedoctrinecouldalsocripplethedevelopmentofthe
commonlaw,particularlywhenfacedwithnewsituations,whichneverexistedbefore.Thus,althoughtheFederal
Courthadexpressedthattheprincipleofstaredecisisisacornerstoneofoursystemofjurisprudence,[[29]]italso
recognisedthatthereisaneedfortheCourttodepartfromprecedencewhenapreviousdecisionwaswrong,uncertain,
unjust,outmodedorobsoleteundermodernconditions.[[30]]Similarly,thecurrentMalaysiansuperiorcourtsdo
notconsiderthemselvesboundbypreviousdecisionsofthePrivyCouncil,eventhoughtheymaybegivenonappeal
fromMalaysia.[[31]]

Justlikeanyothercommonlawjurisdiction,asMalaysianlawreliesheavilyonjudicialdecisionsorcaselaw,agood
systemoflawreportingisessential.LawreportinginMalaysiabeganinthelatterpartofthenineteenthcentury.Early
lawreportsrecorddecisionsoftheStraitsSettlementsandFederatedMalayStatesjudiciaryStraitsSettlementsLaw
Reports,18931931FederatedMalayStatesLawReports,19061941KyshesReports,18081890.Currently,three
majorlawpublishinghousesviewitheachotherinthepublicationoflawreports.TheMalayanLawJournal(MLJ)is
publishedbyLexisNexisMalaysia,theCurrentLawJournal(CLJ)ispublishedbyCLJ,andSweetandMaxwell
publishestheAllMalaysiaReports(AMR).CLJalsopublishtheIndustrialLawReport(ILR)andrecentlyLexisNexis
MalaysiabeganpublishingtheIndustrialLawJournal(ILJ).[[32]]

4.4TheapplicationofEnglishcommonlawandrulesofequitylimitationsundertheCivilLawAct,
1956
ThedirectionundertheCivilLawAct1956toapplythecommonlawofEnglandandrulesofequityislimited,inWest
Malaysia,bythecutoffdateof7April1956.[[33]]Strictcompliancewiththisprovisionwouldmeanthat
developmentsinthecommonlawafter7April1956cannotbereceivedbyMalaysiancourts,andtheonlyavenue
wouldbeforParliamenttoenactlawswhichwouldincorporatelatestdevelopments,therebykeepingMalaysianlaw
abreastofthechanges.Malaysianjudgeshave,onmanyoccasions,ignoredthisinjunctionandhavereceived
developmentsmadebyjudgesofthecommonlaw(particularlyEnglishjudges)beyond1956.Forexample,inSaad
MarwivChanHwanHua&Anor,[[34]]theMalaysianCourtofAppealdecidedthatitwastimeforMalaysiato
recognisethebroaderdoctrineofinequalityofbargainingpowerwhichwasdevelopedbyEnglishcourtsafter1956and
appliedinothercommonlawjurisdictionssuchasAustralia,NewZealand,CanadaandtheUnitedStates.However,
inothercases,especiallywherepolicyconsiderationsmatter,theinjunctivecutoffdateof7April1956hasbeenused
byMalaysiancourtstodenytheimportationofdevelopmentsinthecommonlaw.Forexample,inMajlis
PerbandaranAmpangJayavStevenPhoaChengLoon&Ors,[[35]]theMalaysianFederalCourtchosetofollowold
commonlawauthoritieswhichlimitedtheclaimforpureeconomiclossincasesofnegligence,inparticularseverely

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limitingsuchclaimsagainstalocalauthority.InthisfamousHighlandTowerscase,whichsawhundredsoflives
lostduetothecollapseofacondominiumblock,theFederalCourtcametothedefenceoflocalcouncils:

Withlimitedresourcesandmanpower,localcouncilswouldhavetohavetheirpriorities.Inmyview,the
provisionofbasicnecessitiesforthegeneralpublichaspriorityovercompensationforpureeconomiclossof
someindividualswhoareclearlybetteroffthanthemajorityoftheresidentsinthelocalcouncilarea.[[36]]

ThereferenceintheCivilLawActtocommonlawwouldimplythatitislimitedtojudgemadelaw,andnotto
statutorylaw.Whathappensifthecommonlawhasbeenmodifiedbystatute?InPermodalanPlantationsSdnBhd
vRachutaSdnBhd,[[37]]theFederalCourtnotedthatequitablesetoffisincludedintheexpressionrulesof
equitywhichthecourtisrequiredtoapplyunderthesection.Butthelegalsetoffwhichisbasedonstatuteisinno
wayincludedintheexpressionthecommonlawofEnglandwhichwearerequiredtoapply.

Again,thishasposedproblemsforMalaysiancourts,particularlywheretherewasanobviouslacuna,thatis,whereno
provisionexistedatallinMalaysiaontheparticularissue.Forexample,inChanAhMoivPhangWaiAnn,[[38]]
thecourthadreliedontheBritishDomesticViolenceandMatrimonialProceedingsAct1976andthecasesdecided
thereoninEnglandtosupportgrantingthewiferelieffrombeingmolested,harassed,threatened,abusedand
assaultedbythehusband.Subsequently,inthecaseofJayakumarivSuriyaNarayanan,[[39]]itwaspointedout
thatChanAhMoimighthavebeenmistakenlydecided.

Evenwhereprovisionhasbeenmadebywayoflegislation,problemsstillarisewithrespecttotheapplicationofthe
commonlawandrulesofequity.Thequestioniscanitbesaidthatsuchlegislationissocompleteand
comprehensivethatitwouldousttheapplicationofthecommonlawandrulesofequity?Manycasesonlandlawin
MalaysiastillapplytherulesofequityasithasbeenarguedthattheNationalLandCodeisnotcompleteand
comprehensiveandthatthereisstillroomfortheimportationofEnglishrulesofequityincertaincircumstances.

5.ThePositionofIslamicLaw
TheFederalConstitutiondeclaresthattheConstitutionisthesupremelawoftheFederation[[40]]whileIslamisthe
religionoftheFederation.[[41]]ThesecularbasisoftheMalaysianlegalsystemwasexplainedbytheSupreme
CourtinthecaseofCheOmarbinCheSohvPublicProsecutor,[[42]]whereby,duetoBritishcolonisation,the
religionofIslambecameseparatedintotwoseparateaspects,thepublicaspectandtheprivateaspect.Theroleofthe
religionofIslaminthepublicaspectwasdiminished,anditbecamenothingmorethanamereappendixtotherulers
sovereignty.Thus,theroleofIslamwaslimitedonlytotheprivateaspect,thatis,asthepersonallawofMuslims,
whichcentersuponissuessuchasmarriage,divorce,inheritance,maintenance,andthelike.

UndertheFederalConstitution,IslamiclawisamatterfallingwithintheStateList,thatis,itisamatteroverwhich
theStateLegislaturehasjurisdictionandnotParliament[[43]].TheNinthScheduleoftheConstitutionidentifiesin
somedetailthespecificsubjectsofIslamiclawandpersonalandfamilylawofpersonsprofessingthereligionofIslam
overwhichtheStateLegislaturehasjurisdiction.ThisalsoincludesIslamiccriminallaw[[44]]andtheconstitution,
organizationandprocedureofSyariahcourts[[45]].ThepositionofSyariahcourtsisrespectedbytheConstitution
anditsjurisdictiontodecidematterswithinitsexclusivejurisdiction[[46]]protectedunderArticle121(1A)which
providesthatthecivilcourtsshallnothavejurisdictioninrespectofanymatterwithinthejurisdictionoftheSyariah
courts.

6.Conclusion
ThecommonlawwillcontinuetoplayasignificantroleinthemodernMalaysianStatealthoughmanynewpiecesof
legislationhavebeenenactedandmanymoreareinthepipeline.Manyofthesenewwrittenlawsarebaseduponor
adaptedfromsimilarlegislationinotherCommonwealthcountries.Theroleofjudgesininterpretingandgivingthe
desiredmeaningtothewrittenwordisstillimportant.

ParalleltothecontinueddevelopmentofthecommonlawwouldbethedevelopmentofIslamiclaw.AsMalaysia
developsitscompetitivepotentialinIslamicfinanceandtheIslamiccapitalmarket,Islamicinsuranceandotherareas
ofIslamiccommercialundertakings,thiswillresultinthemainstreamingofIslamiclawprinciples,especially
principlesofIslamiccommerciallaw.However,thisdoesnotdisplacethecommonlaw,whichformsthebasisof
mercantilelawgenerallyundertheMalaysianlegalsystem.

[[1]]AhmadIbrahim&AhilemahJoned,TheMalaysianLegalSystem(1995)DewanBahasadanPustaka,p10.
[[2]]ibid.
[[3]]Hall,DGE,AHistoryofSouthEastAsia,4th.Edn.,MacMillanAsianHistoriesSeries,chapter1Andaya&
Andaya,AHistoryofMalaysia,(1982)MacMillanAsianHistoriesSeries,p.17.
[[4]]AbdulRahmanbHajiMohammad,DasarDasarAdatPerpateh(1964)PustakaAmanKLumpur.
[[5]]TemahvHajiZakaria(1929)7/1JMBRAS125ReHajiMunapdeceased(1929)7/1JMBRAS127SaepahvAbdul
Wahab[1956]3MC60JasinvTiawan[1941]MLJ247Robert@KamarulzamanvUmmiKalthom[1966]1MLJ163
(HC):HartasepencarianisamatterofMalayadatandisapplicableonlytothecaseofadivorcedspousewhoclaims
againsttheotherspouseduringhisorherlifetime.Thisruleoflawislocallawwhichthecourtmusttakejudicial
noticeofanditisthedutyofthecourttopropoundit.

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[[6]]TheeffectofthisEnactmentoncustomisexplainedinthecaseofReHajiMansurbinDuseh,deceased[1940]
MLJ110(HC):TheeffectoftheCustomaryTenureEnactmentistoreplaceinwholeorinparttheunwrittenlawof
custombythewrittenlawoftheEnactment.Asregardsland,inrespectofwhichmukimregistershavenotbeen
endorsed,itisopentothecollectortoholdaninquiryundersection4oftheEnactmentandtodecidewhetherornot
landisoccupiedsubjecttothecustom.Iflandiscustomaryland,itcannotbetransferred,charged,transmittedor
otherwisedealtwithexceptinaccordancewiththecustom.
[[7]]ThecaseofDatoKamatvSapian[1938]MLJ111,decidedthatwherecustomarylandwasheldunderthe
MalaccaLandCustomaryRightsOrdinance,nolienorequitablechargecouldbecreatedbydepositoftheextractfrom
themukimregister.Thecustomarylandholdercouldonlychargehisinterestintheandinthemannerprovidedby
sections21to29oftheOrdinance.
[[8]]SomeexamplesofcaselawincludeInjingvTuah&Anor[1971]1MLJ115AbangvSaripah[1970]1MLJ164
NyalangvSuperintendentofLands&Surveys,2ndDivisionSimanggang[1967]23MLJ250Galau&OrsvPenghulu
Imang&Ors[1967]1MLJ192.Thesecasesrelatetotemudarights,whicharerightscreatedbyfellingoldjungleand
cultivatingtheland.
[[9]]AhmadIbrahim&AhilemahJoned,opcit,p14.
[[10]]ibid.
[[11]]AhmadIbrahim&AhilemahJoned,opcit,p15.
[[12]](1858)3Ky16.
[[13]]AhmadIbrahim&AhilemahJoned,p17.
[[14]]Penangbeing,atthetimewhenitbecameaBritishpossession,withoutinhabitantstoclaimtherightofbeing
governedbyanyexistinglaws,andwithouttribunalstoenforceany,itwouldbedifficulttoassertthatthelawof
QuedahcontinuedtobetheterritoriallawafteritscessionWhenaninhabitedorconqueredcountryisceded,thenew
sovereignimpliedlyundertakestoadministertheexistinglawsamongitsnewsubjects,untilhechangesthem,butit
doesnotfollowthatwhenthecountryisadesert,heistobepresumedtoundertakethathewillenforcethelawsofthe
formersovereignwhensettlersshallafterwardsarrive.perRecorderMaxwellinRegvWillans,atp20.
[[15]]MercySelvaratnam&HulwanaMohd.Labib,BasicInformationforLegalResearchinMalaysia,inDoing
LegalResearchinAsianCountries,InstituteofDevelopingEconomies(IDE)AsianLawSeriesNo23,IDEJapan,
March2003.
[[16]]ibid.
[[17]]TheTreatyofPangkor,1873.
[[18]]MercySelvaratnam&HulwanaMohdLabib,opcit.
[[19]]ibid.
[[20]]ThereareexamplesoftheapplicationofChinesecustomarylawSixWidowscase[1908]12SSLR120,which
recognizedpolygamyamongsttheChineseCheangThyePinvTanAhLoy[1920]AC369(PC)theapplicationof
HindulawrelatingtojointHindufamiliesandjointHindufamilypropertyTheEstateofTMRMVengadasalam
Chettiardeceased,[1940]MLJ155.
[[21]]Forexample,incasesofcharitabletrusts,Englishjudgeshaveappliedtheruleagainstperpetuitiesto
invalidategiftsbyChineseforpurposesofsincheworancestorworshipChoaChoonNeohvSpottiswoode(1869)1Ky
216ReYapKwanSeng[1924]4FMSLR313.
[[22]]ChongSzWunvAndiappaChetty(1908)1FMSLR8TheMotorEmporiumvArumugam[1933]MLJ276.
[[23]]Currently,TheCivilLawAct1956,sections3(1)and5.Englishcommonlawandtherulesofequityapplyso
farasotherprovisionhasbeenmadeormayhereafterbemadebyanywrittenlawinforceinMalaysia,andfurtherso
faronlyasthecircumstancesoftheStatesofMalaysiaandtheirrespectiveinhabitantspermitandsubjecttosuch
qualificationsaslocalcircumstancesrendernecessary.s.3(1)
[[24]]CivilLawAct1956,section6.Withrespecttoimmovableproperty,theNationalLandCode1965applies.This
CodeisbasedontheAustralianTorrenssystemofregistrationoftitle.InUnitedMalayanBankingCorp.Bhd.v
PemungutHasilTanahKotaTinggi,[1984]2MLJ87,thePrivyCouncilnoted:TheNationalLandCodeisa
completeandcomprehensivecodeoflawgoverningthetenureoflandinmalaysiaandtheincidentsofitaswellas
otherimportantmattersaffectinglandthere,andthereisnoroomfortheimportationofanyruleofEnglishlawinthat
fieldexceptinsofarastheCodeitselfmayexpresslyprovideforthis.LordKeithofKinkel,atp.91.
[[25]]BSurinderSinghKandavTheGovernmentoftheFederationofMalaya[1962]MLJ169.
[[26]]FederalList,includesexternalaffairs,defence,internalsecurity,civilandcriminallawandprocedureandthe
administrationofjustice,citizenship,finance,tradecommerceandindustry,shipping,communicationsand
transport,education,medicineandhealth,labourandsocialsecurity.
[[27]]StateList,includesIslamiclawandpersonalandfamilylawofpersonsprofessingthereligionofIslamthe
constitutionorganizationandprocedureofSyariahcourts,whichshallhavejurisdictiononlyoverpersonsprofessing
thereligionofIslamandinrespectonlyofmattersinthisparagraphlandincludinglandtenureagricultureand
forests,localgovernment.ConcurrentList,includes,socialwelfare,scholarships,protectionofwildanimalsandbirds,
townandcountryplanning,publichealth,drainageandirrigation,cultureandsports,andhousing.
[[28]]TheappealisnotadirectappealtothePrivyCouncilbutanappealtotheYangdiPertuanAgong.
[[29]]CooperativeControlBankLtdvFeyenDevelopmentSdnBhd[1997]2MLJ829.
[[30]]DalipBhagwanSinghvPP[1998]1MLJ1KoperasiRakyatvHartaEmpat[2000]2AMR2311.
[[31]]ArulpragasanvPP[1977]1MLJ1SyarikatKenderaanMelayuKelantanvTransportWorkersUnion[1995]2
MLJ317MajlisPerbandaranPulauPinangvSyarikatBekerjasamasamaSerbagunaSungaiGlugor[1999]3CLJ73.
[[32]]SweetandMaxwellalsopublishtheAllMalaysiaCommercialReports.BothCLJandLexisNexisalsopublish
reportsfromtheSyariahcourtstheSyariahReportorLaporanSyariahandtheShariahLawReportrespectively.
[[33]]ForSabahandSarawak,theActalsoallowsfortheapplicationofstatutesofgeneralapplication,as
administeredorinforceinEnglandonthe1stdayofDecember1951(forSabah),andthe12thdayofDecember1949
(forSarawak).

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[[34]][2001]3CLJ98.
[[35]][2006]3MLJ389.
[[36]]AbdulHamidMohamedFCJ,atp423.
[[37]][1985]1MLJ157.
[[38]][1995]3MLJ130.
[[39]][1996]4MLJ421.
[[40]]FederalConstitution,Article4(1)
[[41]]FederalConstitution,Article3(1)
[[42]][1988]2MLJ55.
[[43]]Article74,NinthSchedule.
[[44]]NinthSchedule:..thecreationandpunishmentofoffencesbypersonsprofessingthereligionofIslamagainst
preceptsofthatreligion,exceptinregardtomattersincludedintheFederalListForexample,theSyariahCriminal
Offences(FederalTerritories)Act1997providesforoffencessuchaswrongfulworship,falsedoctrine,disrespectfor
Ramadhan,nonpaymentofzakat/fitrah,religiousteachingwithouttauliah,closeproximityorkhalwat.
[[45]]NinthScheduleSyariahcourtsshallhavejurisdictiononlyoverpersonsprofessingthereligionofIslamandin
respectonlyofanyofthemattersincludedinthisparagraph,butshallnothavejurisdictioninrespectofoffences
exceptinsofarasconferredbyfederallaw.
[[46]]SukmaDharmawanvKetuaPengarahPenjara[1999]1MLJ266(CA)[1999]2MLJ241(FC)LatifahMatZin
vRosmawatiSharibun&Anor.[2007]5CLJ253:Clause(1A)ofArticle121wasnotintroducedforthepurposeof
oustingthejurisdictionofthecivilcourts.Thequestiontobeasked[incaseswhereStatemakeslaw,whichinfringes
onmatterswithintheFederalList]is:aresuchlawsconstitutionalinthefirstplace?Andtheconstitutionalityof
suchlawsisamatterfortheFederalCourttodecideArticle128.AbdulHamidMohamedFCJ,atp.279.

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