The Court of Appeal today barred an Islamic body’s bid to intervene in a Sabah church’s lawsuit, saying the Attorney-General’s involvement was sufficient to safeguard public interest in the case.
Justice Datuk Hamid Sultan Abu Backer, who chaired the three-judge panel, noted the AG’s Chambers was already representing the Home Ministry and the federal government that are being sued by the Sabah Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) church.
“The AG is duly represented and is vigilant, it is sufficient in our view to protect public interest within the watchful eyes of the courts with judges who have taken the constitutional oath to defend and protect the Constitution,” he said today.
In the unanimous decision to allow the Sabah SIB church’s appeal on the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council’s (MAIWP) role, Hamid Sultan further said the Islamic body has no rights over non-Muslims.
“In the instant case, we do not see how the first respondent will be affected by any order of the court other than a circuitous reasoning which will not satisfy the direct interest test. MAIWP has no rights over and owes no liabilities to the appellant or non-Muslims,” he said.
However, he also allowed MAIWP to contribute and assist the court as amicus curiae, or as friends of the court, having noted that the church did not object to such a role.
Earlier when reading out the grounds of the judgment, the judge said the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 under which Maiwp was created does not give express or implied power for the Islamic body to intervene in Sabah SIB’s case.
Citing previous court decisions including a 2009 Federal Court ruling, the judge said any would-be intervenor must show that they have a direct interest.
In reversing the High Court’s February 23 decision allowing MAIWP to be an intervener, Hamid Sultan concluded that Maiwp had not shown it had direct interest as required to intervene.
The judge said the AG is typically excluded from the need to demonstrate a direct interest, adding the latter was “the most appropriate person” to be heard in court on public interest matters including the present case.
No order was made with regards to cost.
The other two judges in the coram were Datuk Zamani A Rahim and Datuk Zaleha Yusof.
The Sabah SIB church and its president, Rev Datuk Jerry WA Dusing, filed the lawsuit against the home minister and government on December 10, 2007 over the seizure of three boxes of Malay-language Christian educational books that contained the word “Allah.”
The books for Christian children that SIB imported from Indonesia were seized at the former international budget airport terminal in Sepang on August 15, 2007 while in transit. They were later returned to the Sabah church on January 25, 2008.
With the books seized from the Sabah SIB church nine years ago already returned, the church is currently seeking a declaration that it has the constitutional right under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution to use the Arabic word for God “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia translations of the Christian bible, as well as in all other religious publications and materials.
The Christian Bumiputera communities in Sabah and Sarawak typically use Bahasa Malaysia in their holy scriptures and religious practises.
When met later, Dusing said today’s ruling was “good decision in moving forward,” highlighting that the Sabah SIB’s case was not one that pits one religion against another, but related to religious freedom.
“We trust that the decision will be made for the benefit of the community — everybody, particularly to safeguard religious freedom, so each religious body should be able to govern themselves without the fear and also the interference of others, for the peace and harmony of Malaysia,” he told reporters.
MAIWP’s lawyer, Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, said his legal team will study grounds of the judgment today before advising the client on the next step, adding that he was unable to confirm if it would want to appeal the decision.
The church finally obtained leave in October 2014 for their judicial review application to be heard.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court has not heard the church’s legal bid and has stayed proceedings until the disposal of today’s appeal. Case management is scheduled for October 10.
IDA LIM@The Malay Mail Online