Court reserves judgment on church’s leave application


(TMI) – The Federal Court has reserved judgment on the Catholic Church’s leave application to appeal against the ruling by the Court of Appeal which affirmed that the home minister was right to ban the use of the word “Allah” in a weekly publication.

Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria adjourned ruling after hearing the parties to the leave application.

A court official said the Federal Court registry would notify parties when the judges were ready to deliver their verdict.

An unprecedented seven-man bench was convened to hear the church’s leave application.

Sitting with Arifin were Tan Sri Raus Sharif, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinuddin, Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, Tan Sri Suriyadi Halim Omar, Datuk Zainun Ali and Datuk Jeffrey Tan Kok Hwa.

Leave applications and appeals are normally heard by a five-member bench.

Only on two occasions in the past had a seven-member panel been convened to hear drug trafficking cases involving important legal principles.

The church had submitted 26 questions on the constitution, administrative law as well as the power of the court to allow the home minister to ban the use of a theological word.

These questions were part of the application filed by lawyers for the church, seeking leave to appear before the Federal Court to challenge the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the “Allah” issue.

Lawyer Datuk Dr Cryrus Das, who appeared for the church, said the apex court should hear the merits of the case because the Court of Appeal had reversed the findings of a High Court on key constitutional and administrative law issues.

“The Court of Appeal ruling had further created ambiguities on the ‘Allah’ issue which has now affected 1.6 million Bumiputera Christians in Sabah and Sarawak,” he added.

He said ministers had made conflicting and contradictory statements following the appellate court’s ruling.

“Further, the decision has also affected minority rights of others like the Sikhs and Bahai who use the word ‘Allah’,” Das said, adding that the international community was also closely following this matter.

He said it was unclear where the minister had obtained the authority to impose the ban on the word.

“One of the Court of Appeal judges stated that the minister has absolute discretion but the court was entitled to review his decision,” he said.

Das said Islam was the religion of the federation but fundamental rights in the constitution could not take a back seat.

He also said the apex court had to decide to what extent judges could rely on the Internet to do research in making judicial findings.

Das said the publisher of the Herald had been using the word in the newspaper since 1995 and there was no threat to national security until the minister imposed a ban in 2009.

Another counsel for the church, Fabian Dawson, said Christians in this part of the region had been using the word “Allah” in their religious practices since 1894.

Senior Federal Counsel Suzana Atan said the minister had imposed the ban on grounds of national security and it was not done in bad faith.