Govt’s decision a big let-down, say lawyers

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 10 Apr 2019

PETALING JAYA: The government’s decision not to reintroduce Clause 88A to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act (LRA) to deal with the issue of unilateral conversion of minors is a “big let-down”, according to some lawyers. They said there should be more “political will” to make changes to the law to resolve the long-standing issue.

Chairman of the Indira Gandhi Action Team (Ingat) Arun Dorai­samy said they felt that the government’s response in Parliament was disappointing as there had been a consensus in the Cabinet since 2009 that the issue should be addressed via the law.

He said that without Clause 88A, the Act was “handicapped”.

“The new government should make the right, not popular, decision. It creates opportunities to abuse the system. We have been fighting this for decades. How long is enough?” he asked.

In one of the most high-profile cases regarding unilateral conversions, the Federal Court had in January 2018 nullified the unilate­ral conversion of M. Indira Gandhi’s three children to Islam by her ex-­husband.

Syariah lawyer Nizam Bashir said Clause 88A was initially proposed by the authorities in an effort to resolve the issue of unilateral conversions.

He considered it a serious issue as it was about the spiritual upbringing of a child which could affect their entire lives.

“There may be a need to treat pre-existing cases of unilateral conversions somewhat differently, as beyond the reach of the statute as it requires an assessment of the best interest of the child.

“Save for that, it may be sensible to reconsider resuscitating 88A or at the very least, debate its propriety,” he said.

Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran, who was previously Indira’s lawyer, could not be reach­ed for comments.

Meanwhile, non-Muslim religious groups pressed for the govern­ment to amend the LRA.

Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hin­duism, Sikhism and Taoism president Datuk R.S. Mohan Shan said Clause 88A should be included in the Act so that the courts could refer to it in their cases.

“Now the courts favour us (non-Muslims) but it cannot favour us all the time without the law,” he said.

Mohan said there would be no permanent solution to the issue without amendments to the LRA.

“It is going to be a prolonged story when the court makes a different decision. Then, you have to fight the case all over again,” he said. Buddhist Maha Vihara vice-president Prematilaka Serisena feared that a different court might decide differently to what the Federal Court had in mind.

“It is not just the LRA which we need to include this in, we also have to look into the Islamic administration Acts of the different states.

“Once you amend the LRA to include the decision of the Federal Court in the Indira Gandhi case, you must also make provisions to amend those Islamic Acts which says a single parent can consent to conversion,” he said.

Council of Churches Malaysia general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri said if there were no reciprocal amendments on Islamic laws, problems would still occur.

“It is ideal if the LRA is clear that both parents must consent before a child can be converted, to safeguard against unilateral conversion,” he said.

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