ONE of the most hotly debated legal issues in 2016 was the proposed amendment to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, better known as Act 355. PAS President and Marang MP, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had sought to introduce a Private Members' Bill to amend Act 355 to increase the limit of the Syariah Court in meting out punishments.
He later significantly amended the bill, but requested to defer debate on the Bill to the next Dewan Rakyat sitting.
A lot has been said about Hadi's proposed amendment. Some argue that it is unconstitutional; some say that it merely a political ploy while others argue that it is merely to "empower" the Syariah Court.
What is clear is that the debate on the Bill will continue into 2017 and we will probably find if it will actually be passed by Parliament.
The other major legal issue that has spilled over from 2016 is the delimitation of constituencies by the Election Commission (EC). The process began in the second half of last year, and many quarters have challenged various aspects of the delimitation process in Court. At the time of writing, the Kuala Lumpur High Court has stayed the process in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, because of ongoing judicial review actions before it. Regardless of the legal challenges, 2017 will see some developments on the delimitation process and it may be completed by the end of the year.
2017 will also see the coming into force of the new Companies Act 2016. The Act was passed by Parliament last year but has not yet come into force. The Act will bring about major changes to the provisions relating to companies in Malaysia. Other lawyers have written extensively and comprehensively about these changes and lawyers, company secretaries and those involved in companies should familiarise themselves with the new Act.
Amendments to the Bankruptcy Act, which has been in the pipeline for a long time, will also likely be passed by Parliament in 2017. The first reading of the amendment Bill was done in late 2016. The amendments will bring about significant changes to bankruptcy laws.
2017 will also see further challenges to human rights and fundamental liberties in Malaysia. We have seen how the democratic spaces are shrinking over the past few years. As we inch closer to the general election and as the political temperature heats up, we will likely see more instances of laws being used to restrict or deny fundamental freedoms, whether rightly or wrongly.
We may even see new laws being introduced that will further restrict our rights; 2016 was rife with talks of the government introducing a law to regulate social media and news portal. It did not materialise last year, but we may see it in 2017.
There is also the looming shadow of the National Security Council Act, which came into force last year. The Government is unlikely to utilise the Act in 2017, but there is always the possibility of this option.
Lastly, 2017 might also be the year that elections will be called. This singular event itself will raise many legal and constitutional issues to keep us busy.
We can only speculate what 2017 may hold. But if previous years are any indication, we can be sure that at least it will be an interesting 12 months.