PUTRAJAYA: Two Justices withdrew from hearing the case of Zaina Abdin Hamid - who is attempting to be acknowledged as a Hindu - saying they were unsuitable to preside in the case.
Panel chairperson, Justice Azahar Mohamed revealed that the case had come under his purview, which he was still with the Attorney-General's Chambers, back in 2002.
As the A-G's Chambers Civil Division Head, Azahar had given clearance to several documents involved in the A-G's Chambers attempt to strike out the case.
Justice Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof also withdrew himself, saying he had ruled in a similar case, James Vs the Malaysian Government.
"I don't feel comfortable, having a very similar matter. As such, I am recusing myself from this case," he said.
This caused a round of laughter in the court, as several lawyers representing the applicant Zaina Abdin Hamid - including Fahri Azzat, Aston Paiva and K. Shanmuga said they were aware of that, as they were the lawyers in the case mentioned by Justice Mohamad Ariff.
Justice Umi Kalthum Abdul Majid revealed that she had, in her capacity as Senior Federal Council, been heavily involved with conversion cases including Kamaria Ali and Lina Joy's cases.
"I ask the counsels if you would be comfortable to have me hear this case?
"However, my learned brothers have advised me that this should not be an issue as I have not previously been involved with this case," she said.
The court fixed Nov 4 for the case to be heard before a new panel.
Zaina @ S. Maniam and his two sons, Surindiran and Mohanasubash, and his daughter Chandrika, were appealing against the Shah Alam High Court's Jan 2013 decision to dismiss their suit.
The family was challenging a Selangor based enactment that required them to seek permission from the Syariah Court to be acknowledged as Hindus.
Zaina had named the Malaysian government, Selangor government, Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) and the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) as respondents.
In Feb 2002, Zaina and his children filed the originating summons to declare null and void that they were required to obtain permission from the Syariah Court, as stated under the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Selangor) Enactment 2003, before they can cease being treated as Muslims.
They claimed the Enacment ran contrary to the Federal Constitution.
The family said that they professed themselves as Hindus and were not Muslims.
They had also sought an order to have their names changed to M. Balachandran, B. Surindran, B. Mohanasubash and B. Chandrika, and they were to be referred to as Hindu in all public records, deeds and documents.
Though the case was eventually brought up to the Federal Court, the Federal Court remitted the case back to Shah Alam High Court.
In the five-man panel's decision on 2 Feb 2012, Appeals Court president Md Raus Shariff ruled that the facts of the case were still in dispute, thus needed to be heard in a High Court.
Zaina was born to an Indian father who converted to Islam to marry his mother, an Indian Muslim.
Zaina married a Hindu, A. Suselia, in 1986, in accordance with Hindu customs.
The couple have three children, who were brought up as Hindus.