PETALING JAYA: The Federal Court made the right decision by affirming the civil courts’ jurisdiction on custody matters when one spouse in a civil marriage converts to Islam, said Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
But the former law minister said the apex court should take another step forward by resolving the issue of unilateral conversions of minors.
Weighing in on Wednesday’s ruling in S. Deepa’s case, Zaid said: “We should be happy because there has been a lot of confusion about custody before. However, the issue of unilateral conversions remains.”
The Federal Court made a good first step, and it needs to take the next right step, said Zaid in a phone interview.
Zaid pointed out that the Federal Court would have the opportunity to lay the matter to rest by making a good decision in the Indira Gandhi case.
The kindergarten teacher is appealing a Court of Appeal majority decision which ruled that issues regarding Muslim conversion were exclusively the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court.
Zaid said unilateral conversions, in his view, were unconstitutional and added that Indira Gandhi’s case should be expedited.
He said there was no basis to allow unilateral conversions of children as justice required the consent of both parents.
“It is not fair on minors and on parents who are denied a say. On the matter of justice and fairness, it’s not on,” said Zaid.
Indira’s children were converted to Islam by her ex-husband Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, formerly known as K. Patmanathan.
In April 2009, Riduan took away Prasana Diksa, then 11 months old, and converted the child and two siblings – Tevi Darsiny, then 12, and Karan Dinish, then 11 – to Islam. The two older children remained with their mother.
Wanita MCA chairman Datuk Heng Seai Kie also lauded the apex court’s decision and called on the Attorney-General’s Chambers to amend the law to ensure Deepa’s case was the last of its kind.
“We praise the unanimous decision by the five-man bench who ruled that the civil court has exclusive jurisdiction to grant divorce, including custody care and access of the children born under the civil marriage,” said Heng, who is also adviser on National Unity and Integration in the Prime Minister’s Department, in a statement.
The Federal Court allowed Deepa’s ex-husband Izwan Abdullah to retain custody of their son while she retained custody of her daughter after it considered the current living situation and children’s wishes.
Lawyers for Liberty campaign coordinator Melissa Sasidaran also expressed disappointment that Izwan was granted custody of the boy, despite abducting him two days after the Seremban High Court granted custody of both children to Deepa.
“The Federal Court seems to be rewarding a wrongdoer who blatantly disregarded the High Court order, thus giving the impression that a wrongdoer can abuse the legal process and benefit from it,” she said in a statement.
She also urged the Government to amend the relevant laws so that family disputes arising from one spouse converting to Islam were resolved permanently.
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