The Federal Court, in judging the Bato Bagi case, refused to pass its judgement on whether the land acquisition/grab laws in Sarawak is violating the Constitution, which protects the rights to property of all Malaysian citizens. This is but 1 of many instances where citizens seek protection from the highest laws of the land -only to find that the highest court refused to clarify its stand on the apparent conflict between the Highest laws and those lower. Actually there are plenty of such conflicts eg The Constitution protect most human rights eg freedom to assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of movement etc. However there are laws that restrict these rights to the point of extinguishing them practically. Why isn’t there a Court that focus on such conflicts and tell the citizens where the laws stands? Poor Indonesia had a Constitutional Court. A citizen does not have to have a lawyer to send a petition to it and expect a ruling within a short time-2 weeks if memory serve me right! A citizen asked :when 25% of Indonesians are not registered as voters -would the election results be credible and acceptable? The Constitutional Court came back with the brave judgement: any citizen who shows a Identity card can vote in the area where they are registered on the ID! By this judgement the Court affirm that indeed every Indonesian citizen has voting rights-including convicted prisoners!
A Constitutional Court sits just a short flight away, across the sea. Time for Malaysians to have a Constitutional Court???
The question posed before the court was “whether section 5(3) and (4) of the Sarawak Land Code relating to the extinguishment of native customary rights are ultra vires Article 5 (Right to life) and Article 13 (right to property) of the Federal Constitution.”
Islamic International University professor Abdul Aziz Bari said by refusing to deal with the constitutionality issue, the Federal court has abdicated its duty.
“Under the Federal Constitution, the Federal Court which is the highest court of the land is essentially the constitutional court of the country; the main tribunal whose major duty is to take care of the constitution,” he said.
Abdul Aziz (left) pointed out that their refusal meant that they had failed to fulfill their oath when taking office by saying “I will faithfully discharge my judicial duties in that office to the best ability, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Malaysia, and will preserve, protect and defend its constitution.”
The don added that the court is the custodian of justice, so the judges have let the citizens down for the constitution is the supreme law of the land, one that protects them from arbitrariness whether in the form of laws passed by the legislature or through executive decisions.
“It is the duty of the judiciary to declare the rights of the citizens, being custodial of justice,” he said.
Yesterday Zaki and Malanjum refused to interpret the constitutional question affecting the Bato Bagi land case involving native customary right land in Sarawak which was seized to build the Bakun dam.
Zaki had cited the issue was not properly canvassed before the court to decide, while Malanjum said the lawyers had not fully assisted the court when the question posed was staring at the parties.
Cold feet at the bench?
Abdul Aziz said it is only the constitution which is left to protect the rights of poor indigenous Sarawakians.
“The decision, despite ruling that the deal was legal, did not base it on the constitution; something that the court was asked specifically by that aggrieved group of citizens. The court must decide, one way or the other, how it sees the issue. It cannot leave the matter open like it did today(yesterday),” he emphasised.
He noted the project itself is essentially “an environmental disaster”.
Abdul Aziz said the court has a history of being afflicted with cold feet when confronted with critical cases like these, this case not being the first.
“When the then Supreme Court was asked to decide on the constitutionality of Malaysia’s formation way back in 1963, the court at that time headed by Chief Justice Thomson (an expatriate), ruled in Tunku Abdul Rahman’s favour. A United States paper has also described the court as the least powerful of the three branches of executive, legislature and judiciary.”
“So the people have to decide what to do next; the battle in court is obviously over.”
‘Case cannot be good authority’
Abdul Aziz said from the law standpoint when the decision is not decided unanimously, then there is a loophole.
“Since there is only one judge who made a ruling (on the constitutional question) on it, this case cannot be a strong authority.
“In any case, one wonders why the two did not make up their mind? Is it a case of just wanting to let go this one and later the court can take a more restrictive approach?” he asked, adding that the bottom line is the same; that the land grab is now deemed legal and the citizens have lost.
The law expert said the right to property is guaranteed by the constitution under Article 13 of the supreme law of the nation.
“There seems to be a kind of politics or manoeuvring here,” observed Abdul Aziz.a