Looking back at 2013

HERE we are again, at the end of another year. 2013 has been an interesting year for law nerds like this writer, so let us look back at some of the key events in the legal calendar.

In 2012, Parliament was kept busy with the repeals, amendments and enactment of a whole host of law.

We saw the a repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA), amendments to existing laws such as the University and University Colleges Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act and introduction of new legislations such as the Security Offences and Special Measures Act (“SOSMA”).

We did not see as many legislative developments in 2013, but one important amendment was made to an old, existing law caused controversy and had civil society up in arms.

In October 2013, the government introduced several amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) purportedly in order to equip the authorities to combat organised crime.

These amendments include bringing back detention without trial of up to 2 years, renewable indefinitely, similar in spirit with the repealed ISA and the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance (EO).

We have seen both the ISA and EO abused in the past, and while the Government has assured us that the PCA will not suffer a similar fate, civil society is understandably less enthusiastic about this guarantee.

2013 will also be remembered as the year when a band of intruders under the command of self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, the late Jamalul Kiram III, occupied a village in Lahad Datu.

This sparked off the weeks-long conflict between the intruders and our security forces that officially ended in the middle of the year with the conclusion of Ops Daulat.

The conflict brought to fore several legal issues, one of which is the claim by the Sulu Sultanate of sovereignty over a part of Sabah.

There has been no official determination of this, as this particular question has not been place before the International Court of Justice for determination.

Yet to this writer at least, the right of self-determination of Sabahans should trump over any claims of sovereignty by those outside of Sabah, and this should be the starting point of any legal determination of this issue.

Ops Daulat also resulted in the detention of several individuals under the controversial SOSMA legislation which was enacted last year.

However, the first known SOSMA detainees were three individuals alleged to have been involved in ‘terrorism’.

They challenged the detention and while the High Court at first instance freed them and held that the use of SOSMA provisions in that particular instance was unconstitutional, the Court of Appeal subsequently reversed this decision.

In 2014, we will see SOSMA provisions used in the trials of some of the alleged Lahad Datu intruders such as those charged with waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, in particular, the more controversial provisions that go against established rules of evidence.

2013 was also the year of the most historic general election ever held in this country. It was the worst ever result for the ruling coalition; losing more seats as well as the popular vote.

It also saw the highest voter turnout of a general election in the country. The election was one of the highlights of 2013, and will shape the way this country is run for the next 4 or 5 years at least.

Some legal issues have been brought to the fore, such as those relating to the dissolution of Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies as well as the ambit of a caretaker government, even though this was will be the 13th time the country will go through a general election.

The interest generated by these events bode well for the future; it shows that the people genuinely want to know more about how this country runs.

We also witnessed a host of election petitions filed by those dissatisfied with the results of the elections, probably the most number of petitions filed after a general election.

Most of these petitions have been dismissed at the preliminary stage due to technical objections, but some of them have been overturned by the Federal Court and are due to be tried in 2014.

In 2013, a dog trainer was arrested for a video she posted on Youtube many years ago. A resort manager was sent back across the Causeway for allowing a now-demolished surau to be used by non-Muslims. Two ‘sex bloggers’ are facing three charges in court for what they posted on Facebook.

These are instances of action being taken by the authorities against those who purportedly offended the religious sensitivities of the majority population.

Unrelated to these is the latest development in the Herald case, although some would argue that it stems from the same notion that the rights of the minority are exercisable only insofar as they do not offend the majority.

The decision of the High Court was unanimously reversed by the Court of Appeal in an astounding decision which included a finding of what constituted an integral part of the faith when no evidence was presented at the first instance to support this finding.

The Government found themselves scrambling to contain the fallout of this decision especially in Sabah and Sarawak, claiming that this decision only binds the Herald and West Malaysia, when clearly a precedent was set for the country as a whole.

These are just some of the important events that occurred in the law last year. These events will undoubtedly impact the future and 2014 is already looking like it will continue this ‘trend’ of interesting legal developments.

*Syahredzan Johan is a young lawyer, partner at a legal firm in Kuala Lumpur. He tweets at @syahredzan. Drop him a line at starec@thestar.com.my
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