Parliament need not be in a hurry to debate or pass Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s private motion to strengthen the Shariah courts’ punitive powers by July, the Malaysian Bar said today.
Instead, it urged the lawmaking House to follow the suggestion by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to set up a parliamentary select committee (PSC) to study in detail the PAS president’s proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.
“Consultations, submissions and public hearings should be conducted throughout the four corners of our country, since the repercussions of the proposed amendments are far-reaching, and could permanently change the character and identity of Malaysia going forward,” the Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said in a statement.
Ahmad Zahid told reporters in Parliament last November that the Cabinet preferred to set up a bipartisan PSC that also includes non-Muslims to further discuss the Shariah amendments as proposed by Hadi.
George said Hadi’s proposed sweeping changes to raise the caps on sentences in the Shariah courts is “problematic” for several reasons.
“First, they define the limits of punishment for an offence without disclosing the actual punishments attached to each specific offence,” George pointed out.
He said this was an issue because each state has its own Shariah jurisprudence and may impose different penalties on similar offences, which would go against Article 8 of the Federal Constitution on equal treatment before the law.
The lawyer also said the proposed changes might blur the lines between personal and criminal laws, which would raise a constitutional question on whether or not the Shariah courts had such broad sentencing powers.
“Third, the nature of the proposed amendments has affected public perception, and raises concerns that they could pave the way for the introduction of hudud law, which the framers of our Federal Constitution clearly did not envisage in our constitutional scheme,” he added.
Postponed thrice since last year, Hadi finally tabled his private motion for the first reading in the lower House of Parliament on April 6. Debate has been deferred till the Dewan Rakyat’s next sitting in July.
In his Bill, Hadi seeks to increase the maximum punishment caps of the Shariah courts from three years’ jail to 30 years, from RM5,000 in fines to RM100,000, and from six lashes to 100.
The current limit for Shariah punishments are a fine of RM5,000, a jail term of three years and six strokes of rotan.
Source : @ Malay Mail Online