Top court delays hearing for five Malaysia-born stateless, for home minister and AG to weigh in

Ida Lim
Malanjum allowed the adjournment that the Attorney-General’s Chambers applied for, adding that the postponement is the last he will allow. — Bernama pic

PUTRAJAYA, Aug 30 — The Federal Court today allowed the postponement of a much-delayed hearing for five Malaysia-born stateless individuals seeking to be citizens for the final time, after government lawyers asked to include the views of the Home Minister and the Attorney-General.

The historic nine-judge panel chaired by Chief Justice of Malaysia Tan Sri Richard Malanjum allowed the adjournment that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) applied for, adding that the postponement is the last he will allow.

“Senior federal counsel, you have to take note that this is the last adjournment. We will have to go on, rain or sunshine, we will have to go on,” Malanjum told a packed courtroom here.

The five cases were scheduled for hearing today, but senior federal counsel Suzana Atan informed the judges that she was instructed to seek for an adjournment, pending instructions from Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Attorney-General Tommy Thomas.

She told the court that Muhyiddin was away on medical leave for one month, adding that the AGC had not received any instructions from him during that period. Muhyiddin was undergoing cancer treatment in Singapore and returned to the country on August 12.

Suzana also said Thomas had asked her to seek a postponement today as he “wanted to look at all the applications.”

“He has not looked at it. He has not given his views on the stand written by his predecessor. We can’t proceed,” she said, adding that the AGC will need about six weeks.

Suzana acknowledged the chief justice’s warning on the final adjournment, but pointed out that today’s postponement was only the second deferral the AGC had sought, clarifying that delays in other cases were due to other reasons.

The hearing for the five cases was previously postponed from March to April as a lead counsel was unwell, and was delayed again to May and subsequently rescheduled to June.

It was deferred to July 23 and July 24 when the AGC had to seek fresh instructions from the Home Ministry, but the July dates were rescheduled to August 30 as a new panel of nine judges would hear the cases.

Following today’s adjournment, the new hearing date has been fixed for October 25.

The cases today are the second time in Malaysian history that a panel of nine judges has been convened to hear them.

Other judges on the Federal Court panel today are President of Court of Appeal Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Zaharah Ibrahim, Federal Court judges Tan Sri Azahar Mohamed, Tan Sri Aziah Ali, Datuk Alizatul Khair Osman Khairuddin, Datuk Rohana Yusuf, Datuk Mohd Zawawi Salleh, and Datuk Umi Kalthum Abdul Majid.

Datuk Cyrus Das, one of the lawyers representing two teenage boys, confirmed to reporters later that this was the fifth time the case had been postponed.

He had told the court earlier that the lawyers for the five individuals objected to the postponement, as it would affect the children’s welfare especially those who are in their late teenage years.

He pointed out that the stateless individuals who do not have identification cards would not only be denied travel documents, but also cannot apply for things such as driving licences.

But he indicated he would be amicable to a postponement if the court records it as the “last adjournment”.

Lawyer Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram who represented a 20-year-old and a boy aged eight, and lawyer Ranee Sreedharan who represented a 13-year-old girl took the same position as Das.

The media cannot publish the names of the five stateless individuals that are aged from eight to 20, as the court allowed their lawyers’ request for their names to be withheld.

Das’ clients will be asking the Federal Court to decide on seven questions of law, while Sri Ram and Ranee will be seeking the courts’ decision on one and three legal questions respectively.

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