PUTRAJAYA: A wife does not have the right to choose a place of residence, a Court of Appeal has upheld.
The appellate court ruled that the common law rule, which states that wife's domicile or place of residence follows that of her husband, was still applicable in Malaysia.
The court decided this in the appeal by former beauty queen Pauline Chai Siew Phin against the court order, which ruled that her estranged husband, tycoon Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng, could have his divorce case heard in Malaysia.
Khoo's lead counsel Datuk Dr Cyrus Das said it was the first time that the common law rule was challenged in the Court of Appeal.
"The decision is a confirmation that the position taken by the court of common law rule was applicable for wife is correct position in law," said Dr Das.
Chai's youngest daughter, Angeline Francis, 31, said she was disappointed with the court ruling.
"It is a sad day for women rights' in Malaysia. When there is a chance to give women more rights and equality, it is obviously disappointing.
"I will relay this information to my mother who is now overseas. I will console her and continue to fight," Angeline told reporters after the court ruling on Friday.
Justice Balia Yusof Wahi, who chaired a three-man panel, said they found that there were no merits in Chai's appeal.
"The common law rule on domicile apply to the wife in this case.
"Having found that the common law rule of domicile is still applicable in Malaysia, it is not open for the wife to have her domicile of her choice," he said in a unanimous decision with other judges on the Bench - Justice Dr Hamid Sultan Abu Backer and Justice Abdul Rahman Sebli.
"We are not agreeable that this court should depart from the common law rule," said Justice Balia.
The three judges, he said, also disagreed with Chai's lead counsel Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram that the rule was unconstitutional under Article 8 of the Federal Constitution which stresses on equality.
The judges said that the rule is not beyond the powers of Article 8.
The court, which affirmed a High Court order, awarded RM30,000 in costs to Khoo.
Justice Balia also ordered Chai's co-counsel Andrew Yong to file a formal application for stay of the court ruling.
Dr Das has argued that a stay application should be done by way of a formal application and that it needs special circumstances to do so.
The High Court allowed Khoo’s bid last year to be exempted from a conciliatory body before divorce.
In allowing Khoo’s application, High Court judge Justice Yeoh Wee Siam said under common law, the wife’s domicile must follow the husband’s domicile even if the wife was no longer a Malaysian citizen.
Justice Yeoh held that the Malaysian court has jurisdiction to hear the case.