Looking back at 2017

2017 is behind us. As we move forward in 2018, it is useful to look back at the events and issues of 2017 which has impacted the legal landscape of the country.

Compared to previous years, when Parliament enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act, amended the Sedition Act and enacted the National Security Council Act, no controversial law was tabled in 2017. The long talked about legislation to control online news portal did not see the light of day in 2017. Similarly, we also did not see the follow up to the proposal to amend the Legal Profession Act which was first raised in 2016, after objections from the legal fraternity.

The Private Member's Bill to amend Act 355, brought by PAS and which received tacit approval from Umno also was not passed or even debated in 2017. The last time the motion was raised was in April 2017, when it was tabled but was postponed to another sitting before it could be debated. It is unlikely that the motion will be raised in the Dewan Rakyat before the next general election, which is due to happen this year.

The biggest legal controversy of the year must surely be the service extension of the Chief Justice, Tun Md Raus Sharif and the President of the Court of Appeal, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin beyond the mandatory retirement period stipulated in the Federal Constitution. According to the Government, the both of them were appointed as additional Federal Court judges under Article 122(1A) of the Federal Constitution.

However, many quarters, including the Malaysian Bar, took the position that the said Article does not allow for additional judges to be appointed as office bearers of the judiciary. They see the extension as unconstitutional, and the Malaysian Bar had passed a resolution to object to extension.

Pursuant to the resolution, the Bar Council had filed legal proceedings to challenge the extension and it was reported recently that the matter has now been referred to the Federal Court for determination. We will likely find out how the Federal Court will interpret the relevant provision in 2018.

2017 also saw the conclusion of the judicial reviews filed against the re-delineation process and proposals by the Election Commission (EC) in 2016.

The legal challenges were filed by many parties, the biggest and most important one is the judicial review filed by the Selangor government. At one point, Selangor even managed to obtain an injunction to prevent the re-delineation process until the conclusion of the Court process.

Unfortunately, a series of decisions by the Court of Appeal effectively ended the judicial reviews by deciding that the re-delineation process cannot be challenged in Court. As it stands, the EC has resumed the process and it will likely be completed before the next general election.

Lastly, 2017 also saw the Federal Court deliver a landmark judgment on judicial power in the case of Semenyih Jaya Sdn Bhd vs Pentadbir Tanah Daerah Hulu Langat.

The Federal Court decided that judicial power of the Federation is still vested in the Courts, despite the amendment made to Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution in 1988. What this means is that Parliament cannot limit or oust the jurisdiction of the Courts by way of Federal law.

The decision in Semenyih Jaya affirms the role and responsibilities of the Courts in the context of the country and within the framework of the Federal Constitution.

These are just some of the important events and legal issues last year. 2018 is an election year and we should expect even more issues to crop up this year.

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