7-member Federal Court panel to hear ‘Allah’ case?
1:20PM Feb 14, 2014
The Titular Roman Catholic Church’s application for leave (permission) to appeal at the Federal Court could be heard before an enlarged panel of seven judges on March 5.
Since Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria has helmed the top judiciary post in the country, the Federal Court panel comprises at most of five top judges compared to only three previously.
Solicitor for the Titular Roman Catholic Church S Selvarajah, who had written in on Tuesday to apply for a full bench to hear the application, told reporters that the Federal Court registry’s letter of reply indicated they have asked for two additional sets of documents.
“Previously, we have submitted five copies of documents,” said Selvarajah.
The Titular Roman Catholic Church had also wrote in on that day asking that the bench would comprise of multi-racial judges. Asking for two additional sets of documents may indicate an enlarged panel, although it may not be a full bench.
It remains uncertain who are the top judges who will be on the bench, but it is likely to be headed by Justice Arifin himself.
However, recently elevated Federal Court judges Justices Abu Samah Nordin and Md Apandi Ali may not sit in the proceeding as they played some part in hearing the Home Minister’s appeal.
Md Apandi led the panel that overturned the landmark Kuala Lumpur High Court decision last October, resulting in the present unrest over the ‘Allah’ debacle.
With the two out of the picture, the only judges left are Court of Appeal president Md Raus Shariff, Chief Judge of Malaya Zulkefli Ahmad Makinuddin, and Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum. Other Federal Court judges are Justices Abdull Hamid Embong, Suriyadi Halim Omar, Ahmad Maarop, Hasan Lah Zaleha Zahari, Zainun Ali, Jeffrey Tan Kok Wha, and Ramly Ali.
A seven-member panel of the Federal Court sat in the 1997 landmark S Arulpragasam case over the burden of proof.
Meanwhile, checks with the Federal Court revealed that the bench for the sitting has not been finalised in terms of its composition or numbers, according to a spokesperson.
A full bench can comprise up to 13 judges and would be more authoritative compared with a three-member panel, and such a sitting would ensure finality to a controversy.
It was reported that on Dec 31, 2009, the Kuala Lumpur High Court had ruled the ban by the Home Minister on The HeraldCatholic weekly to use the word ‘Allah’ in its Bahasa Malaysia publication as wrong and unconstitutional.
This led to the Home Ministry and government’s appeal over the decision, where the appellate court overturned the decision on the grounds that ‘Allah’ is exclusive to Muslims and it is to protect Islam and the Malays.
This led to the present leave application filed by the Titular Roman Catholic Church.
The Muslim groups that stood as interveners in the appeal had applied to the apex court to throw out the Roman Catholic Church’s application for leave to appeal on the ground that they have made a finding of fact.
The Roman Catholic Church, meanwhile filed 26 questions of law to be determined by the Federal Court which could be narrowed down to three broad categories namely
The constitutional questions regarding Article 3 on the position of Islam, and Article 12 on freedom of religion;
Whether the minister had acted beyond its powers in limiting fundamental liberties; and
Whether the court can decide on comparative religious issues based on Internet research.