Judge claims he was reprimanded over dissenting judgment in Indira Gandhi case

KUALA LUMPUR: Court of Appeal judge Justice Datuk Hamid Sultan Abu Backer (pic) revealed how he was reprimanded by a top judge for his dissenting judgment in the M. Indira Gandhi unilateral conversion case.

In an open forum, Justice Hamid Sultan said he was proud of his judgment and considered it his “greatest gift” to the Malaysian public. 

“To my surprise, I was shocked when I got into trouble with a top judge in the judiciary. 

“Immediately, after the judgment was released to the public (on Jan 5, 2016), a top judge called up the entire coram and severely reprimanded me, alleging judicial activism on my part," he said in his speech at the International Malaysia Law Conference organised by the Malaysian Bar at a hotel here on Thursday (Aug 16).

Justice Hamid Sultan was taking part in a forum entitled "Judiciary as The Principal Guardians of The Rule of Law”.

The appellate court judge also said the senior judge acted in an uncivilised manner at him by throwing tantrums.

“I stood my ground. My response to that top judge was that I do not have to defend my judgment and I will not be cowed to act against my oath of office,” he said. 

On Dec 30, 2015, in a 2-1 decision, the three-judge Court of Appeal panel which included Justice Hamid Sultan, ruled that the civil courts had no jurisdiction over the conversion of Indira’s children to Islam, which it said was solely the purview of the Shariah courts. 

Indira had secured in 2013 an Ipoh High Court order to quash the conversion of her children to Islam, who were converted by her Muslim ex-husband without her knowledge.

In his dissenting decision, Justice Hamid Sultan said the Administration of Religion of Islam (Perak) Enactment 2004, the law that allowed for the conversion, could be questioned by a civil court.

The panel set aside the Ipoh High Court’s decision to quash the conversion. 

After the incident, Justice Hamid Sultan said his relationship with the top judge and many others were strained.

“After that case, I was not surprised when I was not assigned or empanelled to hear cases related to the Federal Constitution and public interest matters,” he said. 

Meanwhile, retired Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram said the power of the judiciary rests in its interpretive jurisdiction.

“Our judiciary failed for many years because they applied our constitution provisions literally.

“There was a great desire to protect the executive at one time, and because of that, they give narrow interpretations to wide clauses," he said.

Retired Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia Robert Shenton French and retired Chief Justice of Bangladesh Md Muzammel Hossain also took part in the forum moderated by former Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru. 

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