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The Federal Constitution of Malaysia was crafted during the birth pangs of the nation in 1957 and provides the framework for Malaysia’s modern legal system. The Federation of Malaya emerged from British colonialism to achieve independence on 31 August 1957 and was joined six years later by the Borneo states – Sabah and Sarawak – and Singapore to form the new nation of Malaysia. Singapore left Malaysia in 1965 to become its own sovereign nation, and the current Federation of Malaysia comprises the Peninsula, Sabah, and Sarawak. Malaysia was born in a climate of multicultural compromise as a constitutional monarchy governed by secular laws. Islam was acknowledged as the religion of the Federation, according to article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution, ‘but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation’.

The Malaysian court system is based on the UK legal system familiar to those from common law jurisdictions, but it also incorporates distinct characteristics in the form of Islamic religious courts and two separate High Courts for the Peninsula and for the Borneo states. The judiciary in Malaysia can be assessed according to its external relationship with the other branches of government as well as its own internal dynamics with the different court systems. The external aspect is its relationship with the other two branches of government, i.e. the executive and the legislature. The internal aspect relates to the relationship of the civil courts with the religious Syariah courts – a relationship that has raised jurisdictional issues in certain areas, such as apostasy.

Publication Citation

19 Commonwealth Jud. J. 3-7 (2011)