Experts welcome decision – with some doubts

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 11 Feb 2016

PETALING JAYA: The Federal Court’s ruling in the S. Deepa case settled the matter of custody where one spouse in a civil marriage converts to Islam but other questions still need answers.

Sisters in Islam’s executive director Rozana Isa welcomed the ruling but said it only resolved the issue of a child’s custody, not of unilateral conversion.

“The decision upholds justice as matters involving civil marriages are to be decided by the civil courts,” she said yesterday.

She said Deepa’s case differed from that of Indira Gandhi’s, which is pending before the Federal Court, because the latter hinged on the unilateral conversion of the children,

“It is hoped the Federal Court in the Indira Gandhi case will take its present ruling as precedent.

“This decision is important as it ruled that the syariah system should not be abused by one party where a spouse uses religion to get back at another,” she added.

Constitutional and syariah law expert Nizam Bashir described the ruling as bold and fair.

“It upholds the right of access of a parent to a child in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he said.

He added that any spouse wishing to convert to Islam must first settle civil marriage issues in the civil courts.

However, Nizam noted the present case involved a custody order under the Child Act while the Indira Gandhi’s case was a challenge of the conversion certificate.

“Indira Gandhi’s case is more complex and the issues are different,” he added.

Family law practitioner Honey Tan expressed “cautious optimism” at the ruling.

“It is now clear that only the civil courts should attend to the dissolution of such marriages and the issues of custody.

“However, it does not deal with the challenge of Section 51 of the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976 as it provides that only the non-converted spouse can commence divorce proceedings in the civil courts,” she said.

Voice of the Children chairman Sharmila Sekaran hoped the ruling would “put a stop to selfish unilateral conversions which have caused immeasurable confusion and suffering for the children”.

Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said the Bar Council would issue a statement after going through the written judgment which is expected by tomorrow.

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