Court: Mais cannot intervene in ‘Allah’ CDs case, no rights over non-Muslims

By Ida Lim
Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill’s lawyer Lim Heng Seng (pic) said the High Court had made its decision in accordance with a previous ruling by the Court of Appeal. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — The High Court today ruled that the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) cannot intervene in a Sarawakian Christian’s constitutional challenge over her eight compact discs containing the word “Allah”, as it has no direct interest in the case and has no rights over non-Muslims.

Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill’s lawyer Lim Heng Seng said the High Court had made its decision in accordance with a previous ruling by the Court of Appeal, where the latter had similarly disallowed the Islamic body of the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (Maiwp) from intervening in Sabah Sidang Injil Borneo’s (SIB) lawsuit over the government seizure of Christian materials with the word “Allah”.

“Essentially the court went along the same line as the SIB case to say that Mais, just like MAIWP, has got no rights against non-Muslims and no liability to non-Muslims as well, so there’s no grounds for them to be a party to these proceedings,” he told reporters here.

Mais’s lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla said the High Court judge dismissed his client’s application to be an intervener in Jill Ireland’s case, as it did not have “direct interest”.

“The court also then allowed an application to make the Majlis Agama Islam Selangor as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to the proceedings,” he told reporters here after the judge delivered her decision in chambers, adding that Jill Ireland’s lawyers agreed not to ask for costs.

The case will come up for case management on March 30, which will allow verification for whether any Islamic expert opinion on the use of the word “Allah” had in the past been presented to the court, he said.

“And if that has not been filed, then as amicus curiae, we will assist the court, Mais will assist the court to get a proper Islamic scholar to give the Islamic opinion as to the use of the word ‘Allah’ for the consideration of the court,” he said.

Lawyer Annou Xavier, who also represented Jill Ireland, said Mais’s intervener application relied substantively on the Administration of the Religion of Islam (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003, where Section 6 provides for Mais’s role to advise and assist the Selangor Sultan on issues relating to Islam.

“Today’s matter is about the forfeiture of eight CDs belonging to a Christian Bumiputera girl, it has nothing to do with Islam and therefore Mais cannot use the 2003 enactment to say that it is now aiding and assisting His Royal Highness on matters relating to Islam,” he said.

Lawyer Tan Hooi Ping, who is also part of Jill Ireland’s legal team, said the High Court today also addressed Mais’s claim that it is within their powers to supervise or be involved in police investigations in the offence of Section 298A of the Penal Code.

“It doesn’t show there is a direct interest...They (Mais) have not shown under which law they are vested with such power and if they were to exercise such power, they would have been acting unlawfully or beyond the scope of their powers under the 2003 enactment; so the court held they were not proper persons to intervene,” she told reporters.

The lawyers who appeared for watching brief today are Datuk Kenny Ng (Council of Churches Malaysia), Andrew Khoo (Christian Federation of Malaysia, Bible Society of Malaysia, Synod of the Diocese of West Malaysia), Rodney Koh (SIB Semenanjung, Association of Churches of Sarawak), Robin Lim (National Evangelical Christian Fellowship), Libat Langub (SIB Sarawak), Irwin Lo Chi Vui (Sabah Council of Churches), Gan Ping Sieu (MCA) and Cyrus Tiu Foo Woei (Bar Council).

High Court judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin fixed June 19 to hear Jill Ireland’s constitutional challenge against the Home Ministry’s seizure of the CDs.

Maiwp is also amicus curiae for Jill Ireland’s case.

The whole legal dispute was sparked off by the Home Ministry’s 2008 seizure of Jill Ireland’s eight CDs which was meant for her personal use at the Sepang airport upon her return from Indonesia.

Following the May 11, 2008 seizure, Jill Ireland filed for judicial review in August the same year against the Home Minister and the government of Malaysia.

On July 2, 2014, High Court judge Datuk Zaleha Yusof ruled that the Home Ministry was wrong to detain the CDs based on a point of law, also ordering the government to return the CDs and pay RM5,000 in legal costs, but did not address the constitutional points then.

On June 23, 2015, the Court of Appeal ordered the Home Ministry to release and return the CDs to Jill Ireland.

While the eight CDs have been returned to Jill Ireland following the two court decisions in her favour, the case is now back at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, where the judge will decide on two constitutional issues relating to the Christian Melanau’s right to religious freedom and equality before the law.

One of the constitutional matters is Jill Ireland’s application for a court declaration that she has the right to import the CDs in the exercise of her rights to practise religion and right to education, as provided for by the Federal Constitution’s Article 11 on the freedom of religion.

The High Court will also decide on Jill Ireland’s bid for a declaration that the Constitution’s Article 8 guarantees her equality before the law and protection from discrimination on grounds of religion in the administration of law ― especially the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and the Customs Act 1967.