KUCHING: The Sabah Law Society (SLS) has renewed its call for judges with Bornean judicial experience to form part of the appellate courts' panel when hearing cases from Sabah and Sarawak.
Its president Roger Chin said the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report 1962 required "at least one" Federal Court judge to be a judge with Bornean judicial experience in hearing appeals arising out of Sabah or Sarawak.
"Failure to do so would constitute a breach of the Malaysia Agreement 1963," he said in his address at the opening of the legal year in Sabah and Sarawak here on Friday (Jan 17).
Chin said SLS' stand was that this requirement should not be seen merely as a "quota requirement" or be interpreted as "only one" such judge.
Ideally, he said, the majority of the quorum should be judges with Bornean judicial experience in cases involving the native customary laws of Sabah and Sarawak.
"Especially in matters such as the recent decision of the Federal Court which touched on the applicability of native laws to the Iban community, it is vital to have as many such judges on the panel.
"SLS looks forward to the day when there will be sufficient judges in the appellate courts with Bornean judicial experience to make it practical for cases dealing with issues unique to Sabah and Sarawak to be heard exclusively by judges with Bornean judicial experience," he said.
Chin was referring to the Federal Court's decision last September dismissing a bid by Sarawak's Iban community to review a ruling that their native land customs had no force of law in the state.
He noted that in the 4-1 majority decision, the dissenting decision came from Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri David Wong - a judge with Bornean experience.
In his response address, Wong said the importance of the IGC Report's requirement for a judge with Bornean judicial experience should not be underestimated.
"Of course, the law as it stands now does not require the Chief Justice to empanel a member of the appellate court (who has) Borneo judicial experience.
"Speaking personally, it is my hope that one day this will be changed," he said.
However, he expressed gratitude that Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat was continuing her predecessor's practice in requiring the presence of a judge with Bornean experience in an appellate panel.