PUTRAJAYA: Senior Customs officer Suzanah Muin overstepped her authority when she ordered the seizure of CDs containing the word “Allah” from a Sarawakian clerk, the Court of Appeal ruled.
The court also unanimously ordered for the CDs to be returned to Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, 34, within a month and for her arguments on her constitutional rights to be heard at a High Court.
Reading out the written judgment, Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said the officer was not authorised to order the seizure.
While Suzanah was fully competent to issue an interim order to withhold suspected printed materials, she was “ill-equipped” to do so in this case, said the judge.
The evidence, added Justice Tengku Maimun, supporting the High Court’s finding that this had been a classic case where a public official had acted in excess of what the law authorised her to.
“It was done beyond the powers of Section 9 of the Printing, Presses and Publication Act 1984 as it was made by a person, who is not the one envisaged by the Parliament as the competent individual empowered to make that order,” said Justice Tengku Maimun.
“The letter dated July 7, 2008, signed by the officer to confiscate the CDs, was bad in law.”
The judgment was signed by Justice Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, who also sat on the three-man panel with Justice Tengku Maimun and Justice Zakaria Sam.
Justice Tengku Maimun also pointed out that there was a clear divide between the power given to the Home Minister under Section 9 and that to the senior authorised officer under Section 9A.
“There is nothing stipulated in Section 9 indicating that the power of the minister can be delegated to a subordinate authority,” she said in dismissing the appeal by the Home Minister and the Government against an earlier High Court ruling to return the CDs to Bill.
The panel also ordered for Bill’s bid that she had the constitutional right to import religious publications with the word “Allah” to practise her religion and right to education under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution to be heard before another High Court judge.
It also directed for Bill’s argument that she was guaranteed equality before the law and protected against discrimination as a citizen on grounds of religion under Article 8 of the constitution to be heard in the High Court.
The appellate court has set July 2 for mention at the High Court. There is no order as to costs.
High Court (Appellate and Special Powers) judge Justice Zaleha Yusof had ruled last year that it was clear that a senior authorised officer could only seize materials pending a minister’s decision.
Justice Zaleha found that in this case, the decision was made by Suzanah but not by then Home Minister Tan Sri Syed Hamid Syed Albar.
Speaking to reporters here, Senior Federal Counsel Shamsul Bolhassan said he would seek further instructions from the Attorney-General.