Be fair and just in any conflict


The Star

THERE is no denying that we are struggling to resolve many issues with regard to race and religion, with no definitive solution in sight.

Even a verdict from the courts, which are supposedly the final arbiters of what is right or wrong, no longer carries the weight of finality. Everything can be disputed because the jurisdictional issues between two parallel court systems – the civil and the syariah – have become more pronounced of late.

We have to concede that on matters of faith, a judicial solution, even if premised on the supreme laws of the land is not always an outcome that will please all sides. There is today an increasingly vocal court of public opinion, which allows free and open discussion on even the most sensitive of issues. The politicians in office, who are supposed to represent the voice of the people, have to tread gingerly at different levels.

Throw in the other politicians and a hodge-podge of different individuals and interest groups, and what you have is a pot that continues to simmer each time an issue regarding race or religion crops up.

Each time the flames start to die down, something else will come along to fan the embers. It is a testimony to our collective resolve as a people who love this beloved land of ours that peace and harmony has stayed the course.

Be that as it may, not every issue is as ambivalent as it is made out to be.

There are those issues where the solutions have already been chiselled into our national foundations. That the police have to execute an order from the court, any court, is the very basis of how different arms of the government work together as one.

The current issue as to whether the police have done their part to execute two court orders – one from the High Court in Ipoh and another from the Court of Appeal – on the custody of children involving two parties of different faiths is a case in point.

While we may sympathise with the Inspector-General of Police that “the police are caught in the middle” in having to deal with two conflicting orders from the civil and syariah courts, we cannot agree with his argument that the dilemma in itself frees the police from carrying out explicit instructions from the civil courts.

As the Ipoh High Court judge stated in his judgment, “the police with the resources of the State behind them, might well be able to find the husband and with that the child as well. A specific order of this nature would clarify for the police that it is not for them to fold their arms in quiet desperation, powerless to spring into action, on the ground that there is a Syariah High Court custody order that allows the husband to have custody of the youngest child.”

The Prime Minister, in a statement issued on Thursday, said he has discussed with the Attorney-General and a few ministers over the matter, which he acknowledges has become a matter of grave public concern.

While the two cases only involve the families, how the process is played out will eventually affect all of us. Which is why the Prime Minister has advised the families to use the due process of law to come to a solution, including appeals all the way to the Federal Court if need be.

The AG, he said, has been asked to speak to the families and the courts will treat this matter with great urgency. At the end of the day, everyone is concerned for the welfare of the children, and everyone must respect the decision of the courts.

The jurisdictional imbroglio between the civil and syariah courts may or may not be resolved via these two cases. The Judiciary can only apply the law and even then, different judges can interpret the laws quite differently. Ultimately, a solution will have to come from all sides – in all branches of the government and beyond – willing to come together to understand one another.

We cannot deny the fact that there are two systems at work here and we should not see this as one striving for superiority over the other. But where the current laws are explicit as to how certain disputes are to be determined, let us not allow certain groups to hijack the process and make muddy what has always been clear before.

In a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country that celebrates diversity as our strength, we must remind ourselves to be fair, just and reasonable in any conflict that may arise. And, as these two custody cases show, the conflict of family requires the firmest of hands to restore hope in this beloved nation of ours.